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NIDA Challenges Program

Revised October 2018

What is a Challenge/Prize?

  • Challenges are an appeal to a diverse array of potential ‘solvers’ to provide a solution for a particular goal.
  • Typically, Challenges are ‘crowdsourced’ to a large group of people, commonly via the internet, to obtain a needed service, idea, concept, product, etc. from sources non-traditional sources.
  • Prizes – monetary and/or non-monetary – often accompany challenges.
  • Challenges/prizes are an alternative funding mechanism to contracts or grants.
  • Challenges are specific, detailed, and actionable. They need to be formulated, posted to a wide-audience, tracked, judged and awarded.

Related Links

Past Challenges

Past Challenge: $100,000 for Start a SUD Startup

The 2017 “$100,000 for Start a SUD Startup” Challenge was held from June 9, 2017 to December 22, 2017.

The Challenge goal was to support research ideas that would further an understanding of neurobiology as it relates to substance use disorders and that are intended to be the basis for the development of a new and potentially successful start-up. NIDA hopes that participation in the contest will enable scientists to test the hypothesis that their research idea can be fostered into a biotech startup, and that eventually any newly created startups will contribute to the pool of innovative small business companies that can successfully compete for NIDA’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) funding

Teams selected for the $10,000 prize awards:

  • Team: University of California, Los Angeles (Keith Heinzerling, Dustin DeYoung, Marisa Briones)
    Submission Title: Medication Development for Substance Use Disorders
  • Team: OPAT (Alex Rich, John Cronin, Jarrod Parker, Cameron Yick)
    Submission Title: Opioid Prescribing Awareness Tool
  • Team: Cornell Engineering World Health (group of multidisciplinary students leading by Nadine Farhat, Michael Solomentsev, Joanna Davis, Ben Edwards, and Jacob Mathai)
    Submission Title: Drug Usage App - Sensory Monitoring
  • Team: Pillsy Inc. (Jeff LeBrun, Chuks Onwuneme)
    Submission Title: Connected Pharmacy Platform to Improve Adherence for Opioid Agonists
  • Team: Neurocarrus Inc. (Paul Blum PhD, Benjamin Pavlik)
    Submission Title: Non-addictive Pain Therapeutics by Sensory Neuron Targeting
  • Team: Mindset-SUD (Elizabeth Russell, Ravi Chacko, Tony Buchanan)
    Submission Title: Mindset-SUD: A Mobile Dialectical Behavioral Therapy Tool
  • Team: Prapela LLC (John Konsin, Jim Niemi)
    Submission Title: Prapela – an Award Winning Solution for Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome
  • Team: Hey,Charlie  (Emily Lindemer, Vincent Valant, Ben Pyser)
    Submission Title: Hey,Charlie: A Digital Platform for Social Rebuilding During Recovery
  • Team: Yale University School of Medicine (Joel Gelernter MD, Yaira Nunez, Renato Polimanti)
    Submission Title: Test Your Addictions
  • Team: University of California, San Diego (Tim Mackey, Janani Kalyanam)
    Submission Title: A Solution to Automatically Detect, Classify, and Report Illicit Online Pharmacies Selling Controlled Substances

Past Challenge: "Addiction Research: There’s an App for That”

The goal of this challenge was to create an app to be used by addiction researchers in future studies which will help to improve the scientific understanding of drug use and addiction. The app will: allow researchers to engage “citizen scientists” and to recruit a large and varied number of willing study participants; present informed-consent materials; collect data frequently on a broad range of variables. NIDA encourages addiction researchers to use the newly available technical capabilities of ResearchKit™ and seek collaboration(s) with app developers and engineers to create the winning research app. (Submission Period: November 3, 2015 - April 29, 2016.)  For more information go to nida.ideascale.com.

Based upon the Challenge criteria, the judging panel selected:

  • First place - Greg Gruse, ICF International Inc., Rockville, MD for the submission entitled “Track the Crave” 
    Track the Crave is an app developed to target smokers who are trying to quit and willing to provide detailed information about the circumstances surrounding their cravings. This app has the potential to help users in their quit attempt as well as provide a wealth of data that can inform future efforts to provide tailored and adaptive cessation interventions to smokers. The study aims to determine predictors of smoking relapse following a quit attempt, and identify if there are different patterns of quit trajectories.  Researchers will be able to use this information to better understand the nuances of the quitting process and better assist smokers in permanently quitting.
  • Second place - Joshua Song, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI for the submission entitled “Substance Abuse Research Assistant (SARA)”
    SARA is a flexible app platform that is customizable by researchers to integrate multiple data collection tools including wearable sensors, cognitive tasks, and self-report relevant for substance use research. The SARA study will focus on adolescents and emerging adults to understand initiation and escalation of drug use among youth. The app has an innovative engagement strategy providing data visualization and dynamic feedback to users.  
  • Third place - Nancy Saccone, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, MO for the submission entitled “Genomics of Addiction (GENA) App”.
    GENA app is a platform for adults who are participating in research programs conducted by genomic company 23andMe. The GENA study aims to integrate the existing 23andMe genetic data with substance use information to identify genetic and biological contributors to addiction. Researchers will drive large-scale human genomic studies of substance use disorders, with the goal of discovering important biological mechanisms and ultimately aiding the development of improved treatment and prevention strategies.

We appreciate all of the time and effort that went into each application, and encourage applicants to consider additional NIDA Challenges.

Past Challenge: Harnessing Insights from other Disciplines to Advance Drug Abuse and Addiction Research

After completing a thorough review of the applications received, the judging panel found that none was sufficiently meritorious and responsive to the concept of the challenge. NIDA has therefore decided not to award any prizes. We appreciate all of the time and effort that went into each application. (Submission Period: May 26, 2015 - June 30, 2015)

Past Challenge: Innovations in Measuring and Managing Addiction Treatment Quality

After completing a thorough review of the applications received, the judging panel found that none was sufficiently responsive to the concept of the challenge to meet the standard for a First Prize Award.  NIDA is awarding a meritorious/ honorable award of $10,000 to Jeremy Martinez, MD, Matrix Institute on Addictions, Los Angeles, CA for the submission title: “The Patient-Oriented Treatment Information Framework (POTIF)”.  We appreciate all of the time and effort that went into each application, and encourage applicants to consider additional NIDA Challenges. (Submission Period: Jan. 14, 2015 - June 1, 2015)

Challenge Program Staff

Irina Sazonova, Ph.D., M.Sc.
Health Scientist Administrator, Office of Translational Initiatives and Program Innovations (OTIPI)
Challenge Program Administrator
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
6001 Executive Blvd Room 4206, MSC 9555
Bethesda, MD 20892-9555
Phone: (301) 827-9564

Elena Koustova, Ph.D., MBA
Director, Office of Translational Initiatives and Program Innovations (OTIPI)
NIDA Challenge Manager
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
6001 Executive Blvd Room 4286, MSC 9555
Bethesda, MD 20892-9555
Phone: (301) 496-8768

This page was last updated October 2018