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Ehrenfeld Resigns as CSR Director

Dr. Ellie Ehrenfeld stepped down from her post as director of the Center for Scientific Review at the end of September.

"I came to NIH to assess the peer review process and effect changes to accommodate the rapidly changing scope and practice of biomedical research," she said. "We completed the design of the first total reorganization of CSR's review committees, and we are in the process of implementing the new study sections. I am extremely gratified by the support and generous participation of an outstanding team of NIH staff and many others from the extramural research communities."

Dr. Ellie Ehrenfeld
Ehrenfeld will continue in her position as chief of the picornavirus replication section in NIAID's Laboratory of Infectious Diseases. Beyond this, she said that she has no specific plans. "One never knows what opportunities the future might bring."

In her 7 years as CSR director, the center experienced a dramatic increase in workload. The number of NIH and other Public Health Service applications submitted to CSR increased by 70 percent — from 38,579 applications to an estimated 66,000 in fiscal year 2003.

"Ellie has done a tremendous job," said NIH director Dr. Elias Zerhouni. "She helped initiate and advance a number of important initiatives that transformed and modernized the way NIH conducts peer review."

During her tenure, Ehrenfeld involved many researchers from the external research communities to help CSR ensure the vitality of NIH peer review as the breadth and complexity of biomedical and behavioral research dramatically expands. The center established working groups of external experts to periodically evaluate the effectiveness of CSR's integrated review groups (IRGs) and their component study sections. CSR also initiated a comprehensive reorganization of its scientific review groups with guidance of the Panel on Scientific Boundaries for Review. Teams of external experts subsequently completed the design for new IRGs and their study sections. The CSR advisory committee is now overseeing implementation efforts. In addition, CSR established liaisons with the extramural research communities to address emerging concerns. CSR recruited special advisors on clinical research, bioengineering research and behavioral and social sciences research to examine CSR practices and suggest new approaches to reviewing grant applications in these areas.

Ehrenfeld initiated efforts to collect and analyze data on applicants, reviewers and staff to gauge CSR's workload, understand trends affecting reviews and assess CSR's overall effectiveness. She also advanced efforts to make the peer review process more transparent by speaking to many professional societies and having CSR's web site expanded and streamlined.

During the last several years NIH has also incorporated new technologies to allow the electronic submission and review of grant applications. Now all incoming applications are scanned into digital form and CSR study section reviewers can receive their applications on compact discs. In addition, most reviewers now use the Internet-Assisted Peer Review System to submit their critiques and read those submitted by other reviewers.

Ehrenfeld is proud of CSR training initiatives for staff and reviewers. "I'm particularly proud of the CSR Review Internship Program we developed," she says. "It gives experienced research scientists an opportunity to explore careers in NIH research administration, and they are playing critical roles as CSR builds up its staff to handle its increasing workload."

Ehrenfeld recently helped advance a trans-NIH effort to develop new ways to attract, review and fund high-risk and innovative research applications. "Really innovative and groundbreaking research proposals often don't fare well in review," she said, "and I hope NIH continues to do more to identify and fund these kinds of applications."

All of these accomplishments come on top of a highly productive research career that has been recognized by numerous awards, which are listed in her biography: The list, however, may be incomplete, since Ehrenfeld has made it clear she is not retiring.

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