Skip Navigation
ORIP SERCA Guidelines

You are here

ORIP SERCA Guidelines



Special Emphasis Research Career Award (SERCA, K01) in Pathology and Comparative Medicine
Supplementary Program Guidelines for Mentored Research Scientist Development Awards (K01) — January 2011


I. Introduction 

These guidelines summarize current policies governing the Special Emphasis Research Career Award (SERCA) in Pathology and Comparative Medicine, which is offered by the Division of Comparative Medicine (DCM), Office of Research Infrastructure Programs (ORIP), National Institutes of Health (NIH). This award is intended to assist only graduate veterinarians in becoming multidisciplinary, independent investigators who will direct their research careers to investigations in the broad field of comparative and/or translational medicine. These guidelines are supplementary to the Division of Comparative Medicine Program Guidelines (March 2012). The SERCA award emphasizes in-depth research experience in a variety of basic and clinical science disciplines. The overall program should be focused around a central concept; for example, the pathologic evaluation of induced and spontaneous mutant animals such as mice, rats or zebrafish and other aquatic species. Upon completion of the award, candidates should have acquired the knowledge and the skills necessary to successfully compete for independent research support.


II. Background

 Laboratory animals are essential for biomedical research to understand the mechanism(s) of development and progression of human diseases and the search for treatments to ameliorate or cure them. The SERCA is intended to stimulate the development of veterinarian researchers with interests in comparative medicine and related research problems. Examples of research needs and opportunities in this area include but are not limited to:  

  • Animal Models: identification, development and characterization of spontaneous and engineered vertebrate animal models for studies on various types of human diseases. 
  • Pathology: training in clinical, gross and histologic pathology, coupled with state-of-the art technologies to identify and characterize molecular and metabolic alterations in embryonic and postnatal development, which result from genetic alterations in laboratory animals. 
  • Biotechnology: cryopreservation methods of sperm and germplasm; development of technologies for isolating, inducing, propagating and preserving pluripotent stem cells and stem cells of animals to differentiate along specific pathways in vitro andin vivo. 
  • Normative Biology: animal genetics; animal behavior; identification and characterization of non-traditional species for research; animal nutrition and reproductive physiology. 
  • Animal Disease: detection and characterization of diseases that may interfere with research and compromise animal welfare; vaccine development; and development of animals genetically resistant to disease. 
  • Animal Welfare: improved methods for evaluating and alleviating pain, distress and discomfort; development of environmental enrichment; and improved housing and maintenance technology.


 III. Objectives of the Award  

The objectives of the SERCA award are as follows:

  • To encourage the development of veterinarian researchers. This mechanism supports only graduate veterinarians (D.V.) as investigators who need protected time to devote to research training to secure their research careers in academia as independently funded scientific investigators. 
  • To encourage research-oriented veterinarians to develop independent research skills and gain experience in advanced methods, state-of-the art technologies and experimental approaches that will allow them to conduct biomedical research. 
  • To increase the pool of veterinarian researchers and to train the future generations of scientists with expertise in animal science that would further develop and care for animal models essential for translational research.


 IV. Provisions of the Award  

The SERCA provides five years of support for veterinarian researchers who wish to become trained in the conceptual and technical skills needed for basic/clinical research investigation. Awards are made on an annual basis, and are subject to the availability of funds.

 During the first three years of SERCA support, the awardee is expected to develop capabilities in basic, applied or clinical biomedical research. These activities should be focused on a specific research area. Exposure to several research disciplines, such as physiology, biochemistry, genetics, immunology, pathology, microbiology, experimental surgery, pharmacology, nutrition and epidemiology may be proposed if it is appropriate for the development of a focused research effort. The awardee may pursue this training in different laboratories to obtain the necessary expertise. A designated mentor, together with the applicant, is responsible for the overall planning, direction and execution of the program.  

In some cases, these activities will be part of a career development program designed by the awardee, following formal training in laboratory animal medicine/comparative pathology or post-doctoral research experience in another area of comparative medicine. The SERCA is not a mechanism to obtain the Ph.D. degree. However, the research performed under the SERCA may be used to satisfy the experimental work requirements for a Ph.D. degree.

 During the final two years of SERCA support, it is expected that the awardees should demonstrate increasing independence in planning, designing and conducting research.  

As detailed above, the SERCA grant is made annually to the awardee's academic institution for each of the five budget periods. Allowable costs may include: awardee's salary, fringe benefits and research support (see: Contacts, Submission Dates and Special Interests/Instructions and Mentored Research Scientist Development Award [Parent K01], PA-11-190).


V. Criteria for Eligibility

Candidates for a SERCA in Comparative Medicine must:  

  1. Hold a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree (or equivalent) from an institution that is listed by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).

  2. Not have been previously designated as Principal Investigator (PI) on any research project supported by Federal sources. However, the awardee is encouraged to apply as a Principal Investigator during the last year of the SERCA award for outside support that would begin after the SERCA is completed.

  3. Be nominated by an institution on the basis of his/her personal qualifications, interests, accomplishments, motivation and potential for a research career. Evidence of the institution's commitment to the candidate's research development must be provided. It is not essential that the applicant institution commit itself to the eventual placement of the candidate on its permanent faculty, but it is expected that the institution will select candidates with excellent potential for such an appointment.

  4. Receive appropriate mentoring throughout the duration of the program. Where feasible, women, minority individuals and individuals with disabilities should be involved as mentors and serve as role models. Candidates must name a primary mentor, who together with the applicant is responsible for the planning, direction and execution of the program. The mentor(s) must be a recognized senior investigator(s) in the field of the proposed study, hold peer-reviewed research support, hold an academic appointment at the parent institution and be experienced in postdoctoral research training. It is advised that the mentor and laboratory for all post-Ph.D. activities should be different from those involved in any earlier doctoral training. The mentor should assist in the initial preparation of the SERCA application.

Minorities, women and individuals with disabilities are encouraged to apply. At the time of award, candidates must be citizens or non-citizen nationals of the United States, or have been lawfully admitted to the United States for permanent residence (i.e., in possession of a currently valid Alien Registration Receipt Card I-551, or other legal verification of such status). Non-citizen nationals are usually those born in possessions of the United States (i.e., American Samoa and Swains Island). Individuals in the Unites States on temporary or student visas are not eligible.

A candidate for the SERCA may not concurrently apply for any other NIH award that duplicates the provisions of this award nor have another submitted application pending. SERCA award recipients are strongly encouraged to apply for independent research grant support, either federal or private, during the last year of this award.

Prospective applicants are encouraged to discuss their potential eligibility for the SERCA program with DCM, NCRR staff before preparing an application.


VI. Application Procedures

Latest program announcements: See ORIP Funding Opportunities.  

Program Announcement (PA) Number PA-11-190: Mentored Research Scientist Development Award (Parent K01)

Application and Electronic Submission Information: Instructions for Restructured Application Forms 

For Page Limit Information see NOT-OD-10-002: Clarification on Timing and Page Limits for Restructured Application Forms and Instructions that are required for Due Dates on or after January 25, 2010

SERCA Application Submission Dates: Standard Due Dates for Competing Applications

Questions concerning other aspects of SERCA program administration, as well as inquiries related to an applicant's eligibility and appropriate areas of research emphasis, should be directed to:  

Miguel A. Contreras, Ph.D.
Health Scientist Administrator
Division of Comparative Medicine
Office of Research Infrastructure Programs (ORIP)
National Institutes of Health
One Democracy Plaza, Room 945
6701 Democracy Boulevard, MSC 4874
Bethesda, MD 20892-4874
Phone: 301-435-0744
Fax: 301-480-3819


VII. Review Procedures and Criteria

The application will be reviewed for scientific merit and for programmatic and policy considerations. Applications will be considered for funding on the basis of their overall merits, relevance of the proposal to the research objective of DCM, ORIP, and the availability of funds.

Criteria for Review
In the initial review of the application for scientific merit, particular attention will be given to the candidate's prior training and experience, career potential, research career development plans, proposed research environment, reference reports, institutional commitment, and other relevant information. The applicant must clearly demonstrate that the award will enhance the candidate's development as an independent investigator.

  1. Applicant: The applicant's prior training, research experience, potential for a research career, experience and commitment to comparative medicine areas of research will be considered. Emphasis will be placed on potential, productivity and commitment; obtaining a Ph.D. degree (either before or during the award) will be of less importance. Evidence of prior participation in a research project (e.g., publications, abstracts or presentations) will be important. To be most competitive, candidates should have clinical training and/or experience in laboratory animal science/comparative medicine areas.

  2. The Research Plan: The major criterion used in evaluating the research plan and the associated training will be its likelihood to develop an independent, creative investigator. Proposals based primarily on methodology or on the acquisition of descriptive information will not be received well. The proposal need not to be applicable directly to laboratory animal problems, but should be focused around a central biomedical concept or hypothesis that will provide opportunities for research training in the initial years and the framework for a meritorious research application for the final year of the award.

    While it is expected that exposure to methodologies in different laboratories may be useful, such training should be limited to that which is necessary for successful development of the research proposal.

  3. The Mentor(s): The mentor should be a productive, senior investigator with appropriate expertise in the proposed area of research, have prior experience in providing postdoctoral research training, and have a strong commitment to the training and guidance of the applicant. In order to provide the applicant with a maximum breadth of exposure, the mentor should be a different individual than the person who previously provided doctoral or laboratory animal science training. This requirement may be waived if the research focus is so narrow that another suitable mentor cannot be identified. If research leading to a Ph.D. degree is part of the initial years of the award, the mentor should be changed after the degree has been obtained.

  4. Research Environment: The research environment should be one that will not only provide the applicant with the necessary training, but will also provide exposure to a broad spectrum of research interests through seminars, symposia, journal clubs, etc.


VIII. Program Administration

The DCM, ORIP administrates the SERCA program in accordance with the Public Health Service Grants Policy Statement for research grants and other relevant policies.

As part of the annual application for continuation support, the grantee institution must submit a statement that summarizes the awardee's activities relevant to the award; a detailed description of the awardee's progress in the program; and the extent and nature of his/her other activities such as administration, service in an advisory capacity to public or private nonprofit organizations, outside lectures, and professional practice and/or consultation. For additional information please see Research Performance Progress Report (RPPR) and Non-Competing Continuation Progress Report (PHS 2590).

In carrying out its stewardship of human resource-related programs, the ORIP may request information essential to an assessment of the effectiveness of this program. Accordingly, recipients are hereby notified that they may be contacted after the completion of the award period for updates on various aspects of their employment history, publications, support from research grants or contracts, honors and awards, professional activities and other information that may be helpful in evaluating the impact of the program.

Questions concerning other aspects of SERCA program administration, as well as inquiries related to an applicant's eligibility and appropriate areas of research emphasis, should be directed to:

Miguel A. Contreras, Ph.D.
Health Scientist Administrator
Division of Comparative Medicine
Office of Research Infrastructure Programs (ORIP)
National Institutes of Health
One Democracy Plaza, Room 945
6701 Democracy Boulevard, MSC 4874
Bethesda, MD 20892-4874
Phone: 301-435-0744
Fax: 301-480-3819

Questions concerning fiscal matters should be directed to:

Ruthann Rand
Grants Management Officer
Office of Grants Management
National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS)
National Institutes of Health
One Democracy Plaza, Room 1058
6701 Democracy Boulevard, MSC 4874
Bethesda, MD 20892-4874
Phone: 301-435-0844
Fax: 301-480-3777



  • Download Readers:
  • Download Adobe PDF Reader
  • Download Microsoft PowerPoint Viewer
  • Download Microsoft Word Viewer
  • Download Microsoft Excel Viewer