Marking Our Golden Anniversary

NIGMS 50th Anniversary Logo

NIGMS turns 50 in 2012! To mark this important milestone, we’re planning a variety of activities throughout the year, including sessions at scientific society meetings and a symposium on the NIH campus on October 17, 2012. We’re also planning a special page on the NIGMS Web site where you can share your perspectives on the Institute and its role.

We invite you to describe how NIGMS has had an impact on your research or institution, or how it has made a difference in your field. We also welcome your memories or reflections on other relevant topics. The length and format (text, audio, video, image) are up to you. Text can be entered on the NIGMS 50th Anniversary Personal Reflections page or you may send text or other materials to info@nigms.nih.gov.

We’ll compile the submissions and post an assortment of them on our Web site in early 2012. While there is no specific deadline, we’d like to receive as many contributions as possible by the end of 2011.

Finally, as a way of sharing our anniversary with the broader scientific community, you may wish to use our 50th anniversary logo (link no longer available) during 2012 on posters and other materials about NIGMS-funded research.

Emergence of Quantitative and Systems Pharmacology: A White Paper

Our interest in quantitative and systems pharmacology (QSP) began in 2007 as a question about why we were seeing so little integration between two fields we fund: systems biology and pharmacology. We recognized that connecting them could improve our understanding of drug action and speed drug discovery and development while also increasing our scientific understanding of biology.

To examine the potential of quantitative, systems approaches to pharmacology research, we sponsored two workshops in this area, one in 2008 and the other in 2010. After the second meeting, a committee of external scientists who were also workshop participants began drafting a white paper to assess the state of the science and enumerate the opportunities, needs and challenges for QSP as an emerging discipline.

The committee recently issued the white paper.

The paper makes the case that this post-genomic era is the right time to develop and employ quantitative, systems approaches to understand drug action more predictively, and that the need and excitement for doing so is building. Already we are starting to see evidence of this field emerging—the University of California, San Francisco, has started a Center for Quantitative Pharmacology Exit icon, and Harvard Medical School just announced an Initiative in Systems Pharmacology Exit icon. Also, the American Association of Pharmaceutical Sciences annual meeting Exit icon this month will include a session called, “Achieving the Quantitative and Systems Pharmacology Vision.”

The overall recommendation of the workshop committee is for pharmacology to move beyond characterizing drug/target interactions to a holistic quantitative understanding of drug action across many levels—from drug-receptor interactions to drug response in humans. As stated in the paper, this will require the participation of scientists from academia and industry who work in diverse areas, including traditional pharmacology, clinical pharmacology, pharmacodynamics/pharmacokinetic modeling, systems biology, chemistry, bioinformatics, multiscale modeling and computer science. Training new and established investigators also will be a critical element.

We encourage you to read the paper and let us know what you think about its recommendations for research and training in QSP.

NIGMS Research Supplement Program to Promote Diversity Continues

As we begin the new fiscal year, I’ve received questions about whether NIGMS plans to continue its diversity supplement program. The answer is a definite yes. We remain committed to this program, which addresses the important goal of increasing the diversity of the biomedical and behavioral workforce by providing supplemental support for research experiences and mentorship for students and fellows at a range of levels, from high school through postdoctoral training.

Diversity supplement requests may be submitted throughout the year and are reviewed within NIGMS on a rolling basis. Applicants should be aware that the program is competitive and we only fund meritorious applications that meet the program’s goals.

For more information, visit our diversity supplement Web site, which we have recently updated to reinforce the NIGMS philosophy for the program and to clarify eligibility and application requirements. In addition, we have added frequently asked questions and answers. Before submitting an application, I suggest that you contact either your program director or me at zatzm@nigms.nih.gov or 301-594-3833.

Chris A. Kaiser Selected as NIGMS Director

Photo of Chris Kaiser, Ph.D.NIH Director Francis Collins today announced his selection of Chris A. Kaiser as the new director of NIGMS. Dr. Kaiser expects to begin his appointment here in the spring of 2012. We are delighted by this news, and we appreciate the efforts of the NIH search committee in identifying and vetting candidates for the position.

A leading cell biologist, Dr. Kaiser has been head of the Department of Biology at MIT since 2004. He joined the MIT faculty in 1991 and became a full professor in 2002.

Dr. Kaiser is not new to the NIGMS community—he has been an NIGMS grantee since 1992 and has served on several NIH review committees. His research uses yeast to study the basic mechanisms of protein folding and intracellular transport, particularly how secreted and other proteins form disulfide bonds. He started this work as a graduate student at MIT in David Botstein’s lab, then expanded on it during a postdoctoral fellowship with Randy Schekman at the University of California, Berkeley. He plans to continue his research at NIH.

In the NIH news release on his selection, Dr. Kaiser said, “In taking this position, I feel a compelling call to duty for national service and to be an advocate for the basic research enterprise.”

We welcome his leadership and vision, and we very much look forward to working with him.

Continuing Resolution and Noncompeting Research Grant Award Levels

A continuing resolution enacted on October 4, 2011, extends NIH’s operations through November 18, 2011, at the Fiscal Year 2011 level minus 1.5%.

During this period, NIH will make noncompeting research grant awards at reduced levels, typically up to 90% of the previously committed level. This approach is consistent with our practice during continuing resolutions in other years. NIH will consider upward adjustments to awarded levels once Fiscal Year 2012 appropriations are enacted.

Expression Plasmids and Empty Vectors Available

PSI:Biology-Materials Repository bannerGreat news for biochemists, biologists and structural biologists—more than 50,000 protein expression plasmids and almost 100 empty vectors are now available through the PSI:Biology-Materials Repository Exit icon. This includes about 900 membrane protein plasmids, and we expect this number—plus that for human proteins—to grow in the coming months.

The repository has carefully collected, maintained and annotated these materials generated by scientists involved in the Protein Structure Initiative. In addition, it has developed and optimized the empty vectors for producing proteins in bacteria, yeast and cell-free systems. For a modest charge, you can order the plasmids and vectors from the online catalog Exit icon.

Many of the plasmids represent proteins whose crystal structures have been determined but whose biological functions are not yet known. Search the repository Exit icon or use the Functional Sleuth Exit icon to find out if the structure of your favorite protein or a similar one has already been determined.

If you can’t locate the plasmids you need in the PSI collection, you might search the larger DNASU plasmid repository Exit icon, which houses the PSI:Biology Materials Repository. This central repository offers plasmids from hundreds of organisms and special collections, including human kinases, the Thermotoga maritime genome and a new set of 180 glycoenzymes.

NIGMS-Related Funding Opportunities

You may be interested in the following funding opportunities that were recently published in the NIH Guide:

Collaborations with National Centers for Biomedical Computing (R01)
(PAR-12-001)

Purpose: Use computational tools and biological and behavioral application drivers of the funded National Centers for Biomedical Computing as a foundation for building a biomedical computing environment
Application due date: Standard dates apply
NIGMS contact: Peter Lyster, 301-451-6446
More info: National Centers for Biomedical Computing Web site Exit icon

Dynamics of Host-Associated Microbial Communities (R01)
(RFA-GM-13-001)

Purpose: Reveal basic principles and mechanisms that govern the symbiotic systems dynamics of host-associated microbial communities through genetic, physiological and ecological studies
Letter of intent due date: December 13, 2011
Application due date: January 13, 2012
NIGMS contact: Shiva Singh, 301-594-3900

Short Courses on Mathematical, Statistical, and Computational Tools for Studying Biological Systems (R25)
(PA-11-351)

Purpose: Conduct workshops and short courses to improve integration of mathematical, statistical and computational approaches into biological and/or behavioral research
Letter of intent due date: 30 days before application due date
Application due date: Standard dates apply
NIGMS contact: Irene Eckstrand, 301-594-0943

Nobel Prize and Other Honors

Bruce BeutlerWe are pleased that Bruce Beutler, who has been an NIGMS grantee since 2000, is a recipient of this year’s Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine Exit icon. He was cited for “discoveries concerning the activation of innate immunity.” We congratulate him on this great honor.

Beutler has been at the Scripps Research Institute since 2000 but is moving back to the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, which is where he worked when he discovered the receptor for endotoxin in 1998.

While we did not support him at that time, we began funding him shortly thereafter to further explore this seminal discovery. Our first grant to him was titled “TLR4 as an LPS Sensor and Susceptibility Locus,” and our second was titled “Mutagenic Analysis of LPS Responses.” The latter grant, which is still active, was awarded as an R01 in 2003 and converted to an R37 (MERIT Award) in 2008.

With this support, Beutler pioneered the use of a novel mutagenesis process in model systems to characterize several key intermediates in the Toll-like receptor signaling pathway of the innate immune response. These and other advances have formed a molecular framework for a deeper understanding of innate immunity, which is essential for normal host defense but which can also go awry, causing chronic inflammatory diseases and sepsis.

Today’s Nobel news comes on the heels of last week’s announcement that the National Medal of Science Exit icon will go to two of our grantees, Jackie Barton of Caltech and Peter Stang of the University of Utah.

And at the other end of the career spectrum, NIGMS grantee Sara Sawyer of the University of Texas at Austin is among the 20 NIH-funded scientists who were just selected for the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. This award is the nation’s highest honor for scientists at the beginning of their professional careers.

We congratulate these grantees on their notable recognitions.