Back by Popular Demand: Workshop for Transitioning Postdocs

We’re holding our second two-day workshop for postdoctoral fellows who soon will transition to their first independent positions. It will take place on the NIH campus in Bethesda, MD, March 12-13, 2012. All eligible postdocs may apply, but we especially encourage applications from members of groups that are underrepresented in the biomedical or behavioral sciences.

The workshop, organized with the assistance of FASEB, covers a broad range of topics to help postdocs navigate the transition process, including applying for a position, negotiating an offer, establishing a lab, finding mentors and collaborators, getting a grant and balancing research with other commitments. NIH Director Francis Collins will deliver the keynote address.

We received a lot of positive feedback on our 2010 workshop. Just last week, I met an attendee who told me that she had recently moved into her first independent position and that attending the workshop had helped her get the job.

If you know of postdocs who would benefit from our career development event, please encourage them to visit the registration page for details about eligibility, travel reimbursement and application materials, which are due by November 30. Note that participants must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents.

Webinar on Transformative Research Awards, Managing Science in Fiscally Challenging Times

Extramural NexusI want to highlight two items from the monthly digest of postings from NIH’s Office of Extramural Research.

On November 8 from 1:00 to 2:45 p.m. Eastern time, NIH will host a webinar on a new high-risk, high-reward program, the NIH Director’s Transformative Research Awards. It’ll provide an overview of the program and details about the application process. You can access the webinar at https://webmeeting.nih.gov/hrhr. Submit questions in advance or during the program by e-mailing Transformative_Awards@mail.nih.gov or by calling 1-800-593-9895, passcode 10699.

You may have already read the post from OER Director Sally Rockey on managing science in fiscally challenging times or tried out NIH’s interactive data graphs. The post has generated more than 175 comments, including this one from our former director Jeremy Berg that discusses NIGMS’ approach:

I think it is a very good idea to make these data and the interactive slides available to the scientific community. However, some key points deserve clarification. On slide 2, it is stated that the current way of managing is to “bottom out success rates (doing nothing but letting the system correct itself)”. I do not think that this correctly represents the situation. As Director of NIGMS for 7 1/2 years, we used a number of the degrees of freedom shown in the slides to manage success rates. For example, awards sizes were often reduced below the requested amount to increase the number of new and competing awards that could be made. We realized that these reductions had implications for the funded investigators, but in periods of constrained appropriations, these were deemed to be less problematic than further decreases in the number of awards that could be made. In addition, NIGMS has had a long-standing policy of scrutinizing potential awards to well-funded laboratories, defined as laboratories hav[ing] annual direct costs from all sources of over $750,000. Note that this is not a cap, but rather a process involving program staff and the advisory council to ensure that such potential awards are carefully considered with respect to alternative awards to less well-funded laboratories. Thus, some of the approaches described have already been utilized. Furthermore, we have attempted to analyze scientific output in the context of these policies. Some trends are indicated but there are, of course, many challenges to measuring scientific output in a meaningful way. Furthermore, as one might anticipate, there are large variations at any given level of support. NIH and the scientific community need to work together to use the available data to develop policies that can best sustain the biomedical research enterprise in the long run.

For additional details, see the NIGMS funding policies page.

New NIH Curriculum Supplement on Evolution and Medicine

Cover image of the NIH Curriculum Supplement on Evolution and MedicineTo help students develop a rich understanding of evolution, NIH has just published a new high school curriculum supplement, Evolution and Medicine, that includes two weeks of lessons.

I particularly like the supplement because it shows through clear, scientifically-valid examples that evolutionary biology is fundamental to understanding health and disease. For instance, a unit on lactase persistence demonstrates how variation is distributed geographically and how it’s associated with the environment. There’s a unit on influenza that focuses on the evolutionary principles underlying vaccine development, and another that explains the evolutionary rationale for using model organisms.

The supplement was produced by the NIH Office of Science Education, but many of us at NIGMS were involved in developing and reviewing it. You can see an outline and order a copy for your own use or to share with others. A version of the supplement that you can review online and a downloadable teacher’s guide are coming soon. Descriptions of and links to other curriculum supplements are also available.

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 (no longer available) 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