About NCATS' Role in the NIH HEAL Initiative

NCATS is playing a major role in the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Helping to End Addiction Long-term® Initiative, or NIH HEAL Initiative®, a trans-agency effort focused on improving prevention and treatment strategies for opioid misuse and addiction, and enhancing pain management. Launched in April 2018 with funding from Congress, the NIH HEAL Initiative, brings new hope for people, families, and communities affected by the national opioid public health crisis.

Learn more about the NIH HEAL Initiative®.

The word "PAIN" on a chalkboard with an eraser

NCATS’ Role in the NIH HEAL Initiative

With NIH HEAL Initiative support, NCATS is providing a suite of translational science resources and expertise to investigators working on opioid and pain research. With its expert collaborative infrastructure already in place, the Center is leading trans-NIH collaborative Initiative efforts that include:

  • Developing new testing platforms that more closely model human biology than currently available cell and animal models, using induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), tissue chips and 3-D tissue bioprinting;
  • Identifying and de-risking potential therapies that work in novel ways through assays (tests) and high-throughput screening to select and develop compounds that show promise as potential drugs;
  • Accelerating the identification of promising chemical structures and developing those into pharmacological or drug-like compounds;
  • Advancing promising new drug candidates through rigorous preclinical efficacy and safety studies for first-in-human clinical trials as required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration; and
  • Facilitating opportunities to partner with other NIH Institutes and Centers as well as clinical research institutions nationwide to conduct studies to determine the effectiveness of existing pain management treatments.

Through the NIH HEAL Initiative, NCATS is applying the breakthrough approaches of translational science to advance new treatments for the opioid crisis, the public health challenge of our era.

HEAL Awards Issued by NCATS

With NIH HEAL Initiative support, NCATS issued awards to investigators working on opioid and pain research. The programs and awards focus on ASPIRE Design Challenges to develop innovative and catalytic approaches towards solving the opioid crisis and tissue chips to model nociception, addiction and overdose. Read more about the program details and awards.

HEAL New Innovator Awards

Using Mouse Pain Scales to Discover Unusual Pain Sensitivity and New Pain Targets

Genetic background plays an important role in how different people feel pain. To understand how genes affect pain, NCATS-funded researchers will study hundreds of mice from different genetic backgrounds. New artificial intelligence methods will be used to analyze the data gathered. The goals of this study are to find new genes involved in pain sensing and to shed light on why some people are more sensitive to pain. In the long term, this research will help in the development of non-addictive pain medications. Learn more about the project.

Scale Up Single-Cell Technologies to Map Pain-Associated Genes and Cells Across the Lifespan

Chronic pain can last for months or years and reduce quality of life. The causes of chronic pain are not well understood. NCATS has funded researchers to decode the genes and cells involved in chronic pain using single-cell -omics technology. Researchers will study these pathways across the life span of mice, including during pregnancy, to discover new biomarkers and treatment targets for chronic pain. Learn more about the project.

Related Resources

NIH HEAL Initiative

Complete List of NIH HEAL Initiative Funding Opportunities


Steven T. Pittenger, Ph.D.