Anniversary Event “Cell”ebrates the Cell

Cell Day 2012

To help increase student interest in cell biology and research careers—as well as to mark our 50th anniversary—we’re hosting an online interactive chat about the cell on Friday, November 2. Middle and high school students, teachers and interested members of the public can submit questions to be answered by NIGMS scientific staff from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. EDT. The “Cell Day” Web site includes registration information and classroom resources.

You can view the chat live or read the transcript, which we plan to post shortly after the chat ends. And please help us get the word out by letting people in your local schools and community know about Cell Day.

This event is just one example of the Institute’s commitment to science education and to encouraging future generations of scientists via formal research training and informal learning opportunities.

FAQs on Application Review, Next Steps

To address questions that investigators frequently ask about the review of their applications and the next steps after review, NIH recently created an online resource, titled Next Steps. It has also added a link to this new Web site on summary statements, just below the impact score and percentile.

Questions include:

The FAQs do not cover all scenarios, but they do provide the basis for discussion with your program director.

NIGMS information on summary statements and just-in-time actions is posted for research grant, fellowship and training and workforce development applications.

Invitation to Structure Determination Technologies Workshop

Protein structureWe welcome structural biologists and biologists engaged in functional investigations that benefit from structural data to participate in our PSI:Biology Technologies Workshop at NIH on December 12, 2012.

The workshop will focus on new technologies for high-throughput protein structure determination developed within our Protein Structure Initiative, which is now in a phase called PSI:Biology. Investigators from the initiative will present their latest data and highlight problems and solutions specifically related to protein-protein, protein-ligand, protein-nucleic acid and other macromolecular complexes. In addition to exchanging ideas, workshop participants will have the opportunity to meet potential collaborators.

This meeting is the latest in a series of popular and very productive annual events, dubbed “bottlenecks” and “enabling technologies” workshops. Registration, which is now open, is free. If you have questions, especially as we build the agenda, or require any other assistance, please e-mail me or Alexandra Ainsztein or call us at 301-594-4428 or 301-594-0828, respectively.

Early Notice: Genomes to Natural Products FOA

Natural products have been a prolific source of therapeutic drugs because they have been selected through evolution to be biologically active.  New opportunities for natural products development are being made by genomic discoveries and are poised to reinvigorate this critically important area.

At its September meeting, the NIGMS Advisory Council approved a new initiative that will use the cooperative agreement (U01) mechanism to support collaborative and multidisciplinary research aimed at developing high-throughput, broadly applicable approaches for natural products discovery that integrate genomics, synthetic biology and bioinformatics. Research under this initiative will provide the scientific community with tools and knowledge for inferring the basic structure of natural products and for producing natural products, regardless of whether the source is cultivable or the biosynthetic operon is expressed in cultures.

We expect the funding opportunity announcement to be published in the NIH Guide early in 2013. In the meantime, I encourage you to start talking with potential collaborators and thinking about applying.

For more on the current challenges of natural products discovery, read a Nature Chemistry article Exit icon written by NIGMS Advisory Council member Scott Miller of Yale University and Jon Clardy of Harvard Medical School that summarizes discussions during our 2009 Natural Products and Biomedical Science symposium.

50 Years of Supporting Chemistry that Enables Biomedical Research

Video of a press conference with chemical scientists  whose careers were aided by our supportOne of our 50th anniversary scientific society symposia took place last month at the American Chemical Society (ACS) national meeting Exit icon in Philadelphia. The day-long event highlighted the fundamental role of chemistry in biomedical science and demonstrated that NIGMS is a major supporter of the field.

Titled “50 Years of NIGMS-Supported Chemistry Enabling Biomedical Research,” the symposium featured distinguished speakers who collectively represent the broad range of medically important chemistry we support. Abstracts of their talks are available online. The speakers were:

  • Carolyn Bertozzi, University of California, Berkeley
  • Stephen Buchwald, MIT
  • Linda Hsieh-Wilson, Caltech
  • Anna Mapp, University of Michigan
  • Thomas O’Halloran, Northwestern University
  • Smita Patel, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey
  • Daniel Romo, Texas A&M University
  • Melanie Sanford, University of Michigan
  • Vern Schramm, Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University
  • Brian Shoichet, University of California, San Francisco

Tom Wandless of Stanford University and JoAnne Stubbe of MIT moderated the symposium.

The theme of the entire ACS meeting, “Materials for Health and Medicine,” reinforced the importance of chemistry to many types of biomedical research, including the structural and functional characterization and manipulation of biological molecules; the characterization of metabolic pathways; the discovery, development and manufacture of therapeutics and diagnostics; and the design and construction of biocompatible materials and nanoscale devices.

It would be an understatement to say that there was a high degree of interest at the meeting in these aspects of chemistry research. Among the evidence is the enthusiastic participation in the symposium by so many leading scientists, co-sponsorship by five ACS divisions (biological, organic, inorganic, carbohydrate and medicinal chemistry), designation as an ACS Presidential event Exit icon, and excellent attendance.

For more on our support of chemistry research, see the Feedback Loop post by Mike Rogers, the recent Chemical & Engineering News feature article Exit icon, and the video of a press conference with chemical scientists whose careers were aided by our support Exit icon.

So far, NIGMS has funded the work of 36 chemistry Nobel laureates. We’ll find out on October 10 if that number increases this year.

End of Fiscal Year 2012 Summary

At the 150th meeting of our Advisory Council last week, I presented several budget slides that I’d like to share with you. They summarize funding allocations for this fiscal year, which ends on September 30.

Figure 1 shows the $2.429 billion Fiscal Year 2012 NIGMS budget by major component. The biggest portion is for research project grants (RPGs), most of which are R01s. Due to the transfer of programs—predominantly center grants—from the former National Center for Research Resources (NCRR) partway through the fiscal year, the RPG budget as a percentage of the total is less than the estimate I provided earlier, while the centers percentage is greater. About 74%, or just over $1 billion, of the RPG budget goes to fund noncompeting grant commitments and about 25%, or $349 million, is used to fund competing grants.

Figure 1. Breakdown of the Fiscal Year 2012 NIGMS budget into its major components.

Figure 1. Breakdown of the Fiscal Year 2012 NIGMS budget into its major components. About 58% of the budget supports research project grants (RPGs), and of that, 74% is used to pay noncompeting grants, 25% to pay competing grants and 1% to pay supplements.

Below is a closer look at the competing RPGs. It shows that 94%, or about $330 million, is used to pay investigator-initiated research and that the remaining 6%, or about $19 million, funds mainly R01 grants submitted in response to requests for applications (RFAs). At last week’s meeting, the Advisory Council approved one new RFA and the reissue of several other RFAs for funding consideration in Fiscal Year 2014.

Figure 2. Breakdown of the Fiscal Year 2012 competing RPG budget.

Figure 2. Breakdown of the Fiscal Year 2012 competing RPG budget. About 94% of the budget is used to pay investigator-initiated research and the remainder funds mainly R01 grants submitted in response to requests for applications (RFAs).

Another snapshot (Figure 3) shows a historical view of the RPG budget and number of RPGs compared to the total NIGMS budget. The increase in the total budget in Fiscal Year 2012 is due to the addition of NCRR programs. The decline in the number of RPGs is due to increasing grant costs.

Figure 3. RPG budget and number of grants compared to the total budget for Fiscal Years 1998-2012.

Figure 3. RPG budget and number of grants compared to the total budget for Fiscal Years 1998-2012.

As we estimated earlier in the year, the Fiscal Year 2012 success rate is around 24%.

We will provide information on the Fiscal Year 2013 budget when it’s available.

Honoring Basic Research

Especially because it’s our anniversary year, I’m very pleased that basic biomedical research supported by NIGMS is receiving important recognition.

The 2012 Lasker Awards Exit icon honor five scientists whose research we have supported for decades:

  • The Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award is shared by Michael Sheetz of Columbia University, James Spudich of Stanford University School of Medicine and Ronald Vale of the University of California, San Francisco, for their advances in the detailed study of cytoskeletal motor proteins.
  • The Lasker-Koshland Award for Special Achievement in Medical Science is shared by Donald D. Brown of the Carnegie Institution for Science and Tom Maniatis of Columbia University for advancing the study of genes as well as for their support of the scientific enterprise. I should also note that Dr. Brown was among the first speakers in our annual DeWitt Stetten, Jr., lecture series, which we established in 1982 to mark our 20th anniversary.

Since the first Lasker Award was presented in 1946, 81 recipients have gone on to receive Nobel Prizes for their scientific accomplishments.

New Resource for Individual Development Plans

Our Strategic Plan for Biomedical and Behavioral Research Training stresses the importance of creating an individual development plan (IDP) for every graduate student and postdoctoral scholar, not just those supported on formal training grants.

The plan’s implementation blueprint addresses this action item, and we’ve since posted more information and links to sample IDPs.

The latest addition to this IDP page is a new tool developed by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology and the American Association for the Advancement of Science called myIDP Exit icon. The tool makes it easy for grad students and postdocs to examine their scientific skills, interests and values; identify scientific career paths that best match their skills and interests; and set goals for the coming year. The site also links to articles for early career scientists to use as they plan their future.

I encourage mentors and mentees alike to check out this great new resource.

Bridges to the Future Funding Opportunities

You may be interested in these recent funding opportunity announcements:

Bridges to the Doctorate Program (R25)
(PAR-12-276)

Purpose: Promote partnerships/consortia between colleges or universities granting a terminal master’s degree and institutions that offer the doctorate degree, with the goal of increasing the pool of master’s degree students from underrepresented backgrounds who pursue research careers in the biomedical and behavioral sciences and who are trained and available to participate in NIH-funded research
Application due date: October 26, 2012
NIGMS contact: Michelle R.J. Hamlet, 301-594-3900

Bridges to the Baccalaureate Program (R25)
(PAR-12-277)

Purpose: Promote partnerships/consortia between community colleges or other 2-year post-secondary educational institutions granting the associate degree and colleges or universities that offer the baccalaureate degree, with the goal of increasing the pool of community college students from underrepresented backgrounds who pursue research careers in the biomedical and behavioral sciences and will be available to participate in NIH-funded research
Application due date: October 26, 2012
NIGMS contact: Michelle R.J. Hamlet, 301-594-3900

IDeA Program Infrastructure for Clinical and Translational Research

As I discussed in an earlier post, the Institutional Development Award (IDeA) program supports the development of infrastructure and capacity to enable investigators in IDeA-eligible states to become more competitive for NIH and other biomedical research funding opportunities.

While the program has led to significant progress in the basic sciences, clinical and translational research in IDeA states has, for the most part, remained underdeveloped. To spur greater clinical and translational research in these states, NIH issued the IDeA Program Infrastructure for Clinical and Translational Research (IDeA-CTR) funding opportunity announcement last year.

We have just awarded the first grants, to the West Virginia Clinical and Translational Science Institute Exit icon (lead institution: West Virginia University) and the Louisiana Clinical and Translational Science Center Exit icon (lead institution: Louisiana State University Pennington Biomedical Research Center).

Among the activities these centers will pursue are partnerships and collaborations within and across IDeA states; clinical and translational pilot grants; clinical research education, mentoring and career development; clinical research design, epidemiology and biostatistics; and projects related to the specific health and research needs of their states.

For more information on the IDeA-CTR initiative, please contact me by
e-mail or call 301-435-0832.