Challenge Contest: Tracing Basic Research to Medical Advances

Challenge.gov LogoThe basic biomedical research NIGMS supports is essential for the groundbreaking advances that enhance human health, but drawing a connection between an NIGMS-funded research project and a specific medical advance can be difficult. First, it can be decades between the study of a scientific question and the application of the resulting knowledge to improving human health. Second, in most cases, it’s not a single project or experiment that leads to a “eureka moment” with tangible benefits, but rather the combination of many projects. Third, the projects may be supported by different funding sources (various NIH institutes, other federal agencies, private organizations and foundations), and these sources often change during the decades of development. What started as an NIGMS project may later get funded by an NIH institute whose mission is disease-specific, followed by private funding as the advance becomes commercialized.

We’re always looking for new ways to identify these connections, and we think you can help. We’re soliciting stories that make a clear association between NIGMS-funded research and improvements in health, well-being or other tangible benefits to the public and/or economy. We’re also interested in applications in medicine, industry, technology or elsewhere that have their roots in NIGMS-funded research projects. We especially encourage our long-time grantees to share their stories of discovery.

We’re not looking for “Nobel Prize”-type stories or scientific breakthroughs that might in the future lead to improvements in the human condition. Rather, we want complete stories that can trace current treatments, therapeutics or diagnostics back to knowledge or insights gained from one or more NIGMS-funded projects. These examples will augment our own staff’s efforts to identify such stories and help us further fill out the historical context of breakthroughs in basic research and their impacts.

We’re using the Challenge.gov mechanism Exit icon for this purpose, which enables us to give monetary awards of $500 to winning entries. We’ll also post the winning stories on our Web site. Submissions are due by October 20, 2014, and we look forward to seeing what you send in!

Comment on Proposed Pilot to Support NIGMS Investigators’ Overall Research Programs

We’re planning an experiment in how we fund research, and we want your input. As outlined in the Request for Information (RFI) included below, we propose to create a pilot program called Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA) that would support all of the projects in an investigator’s lab that are relevant to the NIGMS mission.

We expect that the MIRA program will offer a number of benefits. For instance, investigators would not have to break their work into smaller, strictly prescribed increments. In addition, the program could improve funding stability and enhance grantees’ flexibility to follow new research directions as opportunities and ideas arise.

It’s important to note that MIRAs are not intended to be a method for supporting only a perceived elite group of investigators or promoting only high-risk, high-potential-reward research.

Our intent is to pilot a program that might transform how we support fundamental biomedical research, creating a more productive, efficient and sustainable enterprise. I encourage you to read the proposal and share your comments using the RFI input form by the August 15 deadline. We welcome responses from both individuals and organizations.


Request for Information (RFI): Soliciting Comments on a Potential New Program for Research Funding by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences

Notice Number: NOT-GM-14-122

Key Dates

Release Date: July 17, 2014

Response Date: August 15, 2014

Related Announcements

None

Issued by

National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS)

Purpose

This is a time-sensitive Request for Information (RFI) directed at obtaining input to assist the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) in its planning for a potential new program tentatively named Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA). This award would be a grant in support of all of the research supported by NIGMS in an investigator’s laboratory.

Background

Supporting basic research by funding individual projects has a number of consequences for the efficiency and effectiveness of the basic biomedical research enterprise in the U.S. (Alberts, 1985; Ioannidis, 2011;  Vale, 2012; Bourne, 2013; Alberts et al., 2014). To address these issues and increase the efficiency and efficacy of its funding mechanisms, NIGMS is considering a pilot program to fund investigators’ overall research programs, which represents a compilation of the investigator’s research projects. It is hoped that this new funding mechanism will achieve the following:

  • Increase the stability of funding for NIGMS-supported investigators, which could enhance their ability to take on ambitious scientific projects and approach problems creatively.
  • Increase flexibility for investigators to follow important new research directions as opportunities arise, rather than being bound to specific aims proposed in advance of the studies.
  • Improve the distribution of funding among the nation’s highly talented and promising investigators to increase overall scientific productivity and the chances for important breakthroughs.
  • In the long term, reduce the time spent by researchers writing and reviewing grant applications, allowing them to spend more time conducting research.

Overview of the proposed NIGMS MIRA program

  • An NIGMS MIRA would provide support for a lab’s research program, which represents a compilation of the investigator’s NIGMS research projects (research areas supported by NIGMS are outlined at our website). Researchers would have the freedom to explore new avenues of inquiry that arise during the course of their work as long as those avenues are relevant to the mission of the Institute and do not require additional review for regulatory compliance (e.g., new human subjects research).
  • An NIGMS MIRA would be renewable.
  • Funding would range from $150,000-$750,000 (direct costs/year), depending on recommendations of the study section and the National Advisory General Medical Sciences Council as well as staff evaluation of the needs and expected productivity and impact of the program. Support for the investigator from sources other than NIGMS would be taken into consideration when deciding on funding levels for an NIGMS MIRA.
  • Up to $150,000 in administrative supplement support for the purchase of new equipment could be requested by an NIGMS MIRA grantee per grant cycle. Decisions on these requests would be made by NIGMS staff and the National Advisory General Medical Sciences Council based on an assessment of need and the potential impact of the new equipment on the research. The number of supplements given would depend on the available funds.
  • The median direct costs for NIGMS MIRAs would be higher than the current median R01 direct costs at NIGMS.
  • The length of an NIGMS MIRA would be 5 years, which is longer than the current average for an NIGMS R01 of close to 4 years.
  • A researcher funded by an NIGMS MIRA would not be given any other sources of NIGMS funding with the following exceptions:
  • Grants supporting research resources
  • Grants supporting training, workforce development or diversity building
  • Funding for clinical trials
  • SBIR/STTR grants
  • Conference grant
  • The Program Director/Principal Investigator (PD/PI) would be expected to commit at least 50 percent research effort to the NIGMS MIRA.
  • Revision applications to allow new collaborative work might be included as part of this program.
  • Review of the application would emphasize a holistic evaluation of the investigator’s track record and the overall potential importance of the proposed research program, without focusing on specific project details. Specific aims would not be required. The process would include peer review using existing criteria and processes but would be tailored to address the particular features of the MIRA (see the section below on the Possible Peer Review Process).
  • To avoid the abrupt termination of research groups from an adverse round of peer review, NIGMS MIRAs could be ramped down from one funding level to a lower one that is more consistent with the recent and perceived future productivity of the group and the importance of the work, as assessed by the study section. Conversely, a renewing program could have its budget increased if the perceived productivity, impact and needs merited it. As per standard grants policy, NIGMS program staff would make decisions on funding levels, guided by the recommendations from study sections and the National General Medical Sciences Council.

Possible Peer Review Process

In addition to the standard review criteria, among the considerations reviewers would be asked to address in reviewing MIRA applications are whether:

  • The proposed research effort is substantive, broad and ambitious.
  • A PD/PI’s record shows evidence of productivity, creativity, adaptability, service and excellence in mentoring.
  • For Early stage Investigators (ESIs), there is evidence of productivity, independent research and contributions to the design and direction of past research efforts.
  • The proposed research includes evidence of creativity and the incorporation of novel approaches as appropriate.
  • There are sound bases and generally well-thought-through and reasoned approaches for the proposed research effort.
  • There is evidence that the PD/PI has considered alternative approaches, outcomes, models and directions that might inform the scientific questions being posed.
  • The work will be conducted carefully and cost-effectively, with good stewardship of the data generated.
  • For ESIs, there is evidence of institutional support and mentoring.

Possible Implementation Plan

Because this is a pilot program, implementation must be carefully phased in and outcomes and unintended consequences assessed along the way. One possible implementation plan, consisting initially of two paths, is outlined below.

  • In lieu of a competitive renewal (Type 2), PDs/PIs who currently have two or more NIGMS R01s could apply for an NIGMS MIRA. Application for a MIRA would be evidence of a willingness to relinquish all other NIGMS research grants upon award. Award of the MIRA would be contingent on relinquishing other current NIGMS research grants in favor of the MIRA. Applicants proposing to consolidate their NIGMS awards would have to submit a MIRA application that would undergo peer review. The budget would be higher than that for any of the individual awards the PD/PI has, but usually less than the total of all of his or her NIGMS support. The length of the NIGMS MIRA would be 5 years.
  • The program could be open to applications from ESIs. This would bring a cadre of ESIs into the system who could be directly compared to other NIH-supported ESIs funded through traditional mechanisms. MIRA would be considered a substantial, independent NIH research award that disqualifies an individual from classification as an ESI.

The MIRA Funding Opportunity Announcement, when ultimately published, will include metrics that will be used to evaluate the success of the program. Once the program is established and indications of success have been measured, additional groups of investigators would be invited to apply for NIGMS MIRAs. If the program becomes successful, it would ultimately be open to applications from all investigators working on topics relevant to the mission of NIGMS and could become the primary research funding mechanism used by the Institute.

Information Requested

NIGMS is planning to issue a Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) to test this new program on a pilot scale. To aid in planning, the Institute is seeking feedback from the scientific community. NIGMS invites comments on the topics below; however, comments are not limited to these topics.

  1. The merits of this funding program for established and early stage investigators.
  2. The likelihood that established and early stage investigators would apply for NIGMS MIRAs.
  3. Concerns about the NIGMS MIRA proposal.
  4. Suggestions for changes to improve the NIGMS MIRA proposal or associated processes.

Submitting a Response

All responses must be submitted to https://www.research.net/s/NewGrantProgram_gov by August 15, 2014. Responses are limited to 500 words per topic.

This RFI is for planning purposes only and should not be construed as a solicitation for applications or an obligation on the part of the government. The government will not pay for the preparation of any information submitted or for the government’s use of that information.

The NIH will use the information submitted in response to this RFI at its discretion and will not provide comments to any responder’s submission. However, responses to the RFI may be reflected in future funding opportunity announcements. The information provided will be analyzed and may appear in reports. Respondents are advised that the Government is under no obligation to acknowledge receipt of the information or provide feedback to respondents with respect to any information submitted. No proprietary, classified, confidential, or sensitive information should be included in your response. The Government reserves the right to use any non-proprietary technical information in any resultant solicitation(s).

Inquiries

Please direct all inquiries to:

Peter C. Preusch, Ph.D.
National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS)
Telephone: 301-594-0827

Helen R. Sunshine, Ph.D.
National Institutes of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS)
Telephone: 301-594-2881

Sample Individual Fellowship Applications Now Available

As described in an earlier post, NIGMS supports several kinds of individual predoctoral fellowships for advanced Ph.D. or M.D-Ph.D. students.

To assist trainees in developing their applications, several investigators have graciously agreed to let us share their successful predoctoral F31 applications on our Web site. Some parts of these applications have been redacted to protect personal and other private information.

Please note that the investigators provided these applications for nonprofit educational uses only. The applications may not be changed, and the investigator and grantee institution should be credited as the source of this material. As we fund additional fellowships, we may post more samples for educational use.

For additional information about our F30 and F31 programs, please refer to the NIGMS NRSA Individual Predoctoral Fellowships Web page or contact fellowship coordinator Peggy Schnoor.

I hope you find these sample fellowship applications useful, and I welcome your suggestions about other training tools or resources we can offer.

Spectacular Scenes of “Life: Magnified,” Now on View at Washington’s Dulles Airport and Online

NIH Director Francis Collins with NIH scientist and ASCB President Jennifer Lippincott-Schwartz at the Life: Magnified exhibit. Credit: Charles Votaw Photography.
NIH Director Francis Collins with NIH scientist and ASCB President Jennifer Lippincott-Schwartz at the Life: Magnified exhibit. Credit: Charles Votaw Photography.

Yesterday, I was thrilled to walk through Life: Magnified, a newly installed exhibit of stunning microscopy images at Washington Dulles International Airport. The pictures lit up the 2-story gallery space with vibrant colors, intriguing shapes and incredible science. The exhibit, which we co-organized with the American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB) Exit icon and the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, runs through the end of November in the walkway leading to Concourse C.

This striking image collection has already been featured in a number of major news outlets, including Science Exit icon, NBC News online Exit icon, The Atlantic Exit icon, The Washington Post Exit icon and National Geographic Exit icon. What a great way to share the complexity and beauty of biomedical science with such a large public audience!

We had a tough time selecting the 46 images in the exhibit from the more than 600 submitted by the scientific community in response to calls from us and ASCB Exit icon. The images, which are from labs in 17 states—from Massachusetts to Missouri to Montana, represent work funded by NIGMS and nine other NIH institutes.

The collection showcases the rich diversity and activity of life at the cellular level: ever-changing architectures, communities cooperating and colliding, a daily struggle between health and disease. It includes various tissues—skin, bone, muscle, fat, blood, brain, liver, eye, ear. It presents examples of normal development as well as diseases. And it includes pathogens that infect us—anthrax, HIV, Ebola, rotavirus, bubonic plague.

Quite a few of the images come from model organisms, providing us an opportunity to convey to non-scientists the important role these systems play in helping to advance understanding of human health and disease. The exhibit also features a range of cell imaging and microscopy techniques.

This project is an excellent example of a public-private collaboration to bring biomedical science to a public place where a wide array of people will be able to see, enjoy, marvel and learn from it. We hope to have more opportunities to do this in the future.

While Life: Magnified is best viewed in person, if your travels don’t take you through Dulles as a ticketed passenger, you can still see the images in our online gallery. This site includes longer captions than in the airport exhibit and enables anyone to freely download high-resolution versions of the images for educational, news media or research purposes.

If this exhibit inspires you to share the beauty of your own work with the public, we’re always interested in receiving new content for our image and video gallery. Send your submissions to Alisa Zapp Machalek. Not only does she manage the gallery, Alisa was the NIGMS project leader for Life: Magnified and worked tirelessly with colleagues in NIGMS and the collaborating organizations to mount the show in record time.

Funding Opportunities: IDeA Networks of Biomedical Research Excellence; Pharmacogenomics Knowledge Base

You may be interested in these recent funding opportunity announcements (FOAs):

IDeA Networks of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE) [P20]
(PAR-14-233)

Purpose: Augment and strengthen the biomedical research capacity of an IDeA-eligible state
Letter of intent due date: 30 days prior to the application due date
Application due dates: July 29, 2014; May 27, 2015; May 26, 2016
NIGMS contact: Krishan K. Arora, 301-594-3900

Pharmacogenomics Knowledge Base (R24)
(RFA-GM-15-002)

Purpose: Develop a high-impact pharmacogenomics knowledge base that serves as a research resource available to the entire scientific community
Letter of intent due date: 30 days prior to the application due date
Application due date: October 7, 2014
NIGMS contact: Rochelle Long, 301-594-3827

Wanted: Training, Workforce Development, and Diversity Division Director

Search Committee Members:

Howard Garrison, Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology

Gary Gibbons, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, Co-chair

Carlos Gutierrez, California State University, Los Angeles

Catherine Lewis, National Institute of General Medical Sciences, Co-chair

Hannah Valantine, Office of the Director, NIH

Dorit Zuk, National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences

NIGMS plays a major role in supporting research training, career development, diversity and capacity-building activities that foster a strong and diverse research workforce. The Institute’s Division of Training, Workforce Development, and Diversity (TWD) coordinates these efforts. TWD also serves as a focal point for similar activities across NIH and among other federal and non-federal agencies and organizations.

The search is now open for an outstanding individual to serve as director of the TWD Division. This position offers important and unique opportunities to set new directions and shape new strategies, including optimizing training models to best address scientific and workforce needs.

Candidates must have an M.D., Ph.D. or equivalent degree in a field relevant to the position. The ideal candidate will have a broad spectrum of scientific knowledge in fields related to the NIGMS mission and considerable experience in research, research training and activities aimed at developing a diverse biomedical and behavioral research workforce. Beyond that, we’re looking for someone who has vision, is innovative, and has exceptional leadership, management, strategic and collaborative skills; experience leading change; and an interest in testing ideas and approaches experimentally.

For additional information and application instructions, please see the vacancy announcement. Applications will be accepted from June 1, 2014, to July 15, 2014.

As chair of the search committee for the division’s director, I ask for your help in identifying candidates for this crucial position and in sharing this information with others who might be interested.

UPDATE: This vacancy listing has been extended to August 31, 2014.

A Look at Our AREA Grants

Academic Research Enhancement Award (AREA, R15) grants support small-scale research projects in the biomedical and behavioral sciences conducted by faculty and students at educational institutions that have not been major recipients of NIH research grant funds. Recently, a faculty member at an AREA grant-eligible institution wrote to NIGMS Director Jon Lorsch urging the Institute to support more AREA grants, arguing that these grants not only train students but are also cost-effective. This prompted us to take a close look at our portfolio of R15 grants. I’d like to share what we found. Thanks to Tony Moore and Ching-Yi Shieh for providing data in the figures.

NIGMS receives the largest number of R15 applications of any NIH institute. This is not surprising, since faculty and students at eligible institutions typically focus on basic research using model organisms and systems. Table 1 shows that the number of AREA grants awarded by NIGMS in each of the last 10 fiscal years has varied from a high of 63 in Fiscal Year 2007 to a low of 36 in Fiscal Year 2010 and that total funding for these grants has ranged from $8.9 million to $18.4 million. As shown in the first figure, NIGMS funds more R15s than any other institute, in recent years between 21% and 29% of the NIH total.

 Fiscal Year Number of Applications Number of
Awards
Total Funding
($ in millions)
 2004 128 48 $9,867
 2005 142 49 $10,382
 2006 171 50 $10,602
 2007 200 63 $13,387
 2008 167 53 $11,158
 2009 172 42 $8,903
 2010 199 36 $9,766
 2011 313 62 $18,441
 2012 306 56 $17,925
 2013 304 45 $16,035

Table 1. Number of R15 applications received and awarded by NIGMS and the total funding for R15s in Fiscal Years 2004-2013.

Figure 1. Percentage of NIH R15 dollars awarded by NIGMS. NIGMS (in yellow) has typically supported between 21% and 29% of NIH-funded R15s. The exception was in Fiscal Year 2010, the last year of Recovery Act funding, when the NIH Office of the Director (OD) co-funded a large number of R15s.

The NIGMS success rate for R15s tends to be higher than the overall NIH success rate, although both have been declining steadily over the past 10 years (Figure 2). This decline is due to several factors: an increase in the number of applications, a bump-up in the size of AREA grants in Fiscal Year 2010 from $150,000 to $300,000 in direct costs, and a flat NIH budget. Figure 2 also shows that success rates for R01 grants have been falling as well. While success rates for both NIGMS and NIH R15 grants had usually been higher than those for R01s, in the last several years they have been lower.

Figure 2. Success rates of NIGMS and NIH R15s and R01s in Fiscal Years 2004-2013. Although the NIGMS success rates for both R15s and R01s tend to be higher than the NIH R15 and R01 success rates, all have been declining for the past 10 years. The declines have been greater for R15s than for R01s. In Fiscal Year 2004, 38% of NIGMS R15 applicants were awarded R15s versus 15% in Fiscal Year 2013. The decline in success rate for R15s is due largely to the increase in the number of applications and, since Fiscal Year 2010, to the increased amount of money an applicant can request.

As you can see in Figure 3, over the 10-year period, the funds spent on R15 grants have fluctuated and have made up between about 0.7% and 1.3% of NIGMS’ budget for research project grants (which are largely R01s). Across NIH, AREA grants account for an even smaller amount, about 0.5% last year compared with 1.2% for NIGMS.

Figure 3. Dollars (in thousands) spent by NIGMS for R15s in Fiscal Years 2004-2013 (blue bars, right axis) and the percent of the NIGMS research project grant (RPG) budget that went to R15 grants (green line, left axis).

Does our investment in AREA grants pay off? There are a number of ways to estimate their impact, including quantitative measures such as the number of publications that result from the project, as well as outcomes that are more difficult to measure such as encouraging students to pursue careers in biomedical research and enhancing the educational environment.

While the number of publications per grant is far from a perfect indicator of research productivity, we found that the number of publications attributed to any AREA grant over its entire duration varies tremendously, as shown in Figure 4. Nearly three-fourths of all AREA grantees publish at least one paper, and some produce many publications over the lifetime of their awards. Considering that AREA grantees often have heavy teaching loads and employ undergraduates rather than graduate students and postdocs to assist with the research, these numbers are encouraging.

Figure 4. Number of publications over the duration of NIGMS R15 grants in Fiscal Years 2004-2013.

We hope you will share your AREA grant success stories with us.

Attend or Watch Online: Medical Scientist Training Program 50th Anniversary Symposium

NIGMS Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) 50th anniversary symposiumThis year is the 50th anniversary of the NIGMS Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP), which supports research training leading to the combined M.D.-Ph.D. (or other dual) degree. Starting with only three institutions and a handful of supported students, the program has grown to 45 institutions and more than 900 trainees per year.

We’re marking this milestone year with a symposium on Thursday, July 17, from 8:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m. on the NIH campus in Bethesda, MD. The event will feature remarks by NIH Director Francis Collins and Association of American Medical Colleges President and CEO Darrell Kirch as well as talks by seven current and former MSTP trainees.

Although the symposium is free, we would like participants to register to attend. If you can’t join us in person, you can watch the event live online.

Plans for a scholarly article highlighting the history of the MSTP are under way. If you have comments, anecdotes, historical data, photos or other relevant images, please let us know by writing a note in the comments box on the meeting registration site or by sending me an e-mail message.

Protein Data Bank Passes 100,000-Structure Mark

Protein Data Bank (PDB) counter showing 100,147 total number of entries.
The latest update brings the total number of PDB entries to 100,147.

The Protein Data Bank (PDB) Exit icon just passed a major threshold—the release of its 100,000th entry. This free online repository of experimentally determined protein and nucleic acid structures, which NIGMS and other parts of NIH have helped fund since 1978, facilitates atomic-level insight into protein structure and function. PDB is widely used by the scientific community to study basic biological processes like transcription, translation, enzymology, bioenergetics and metabolism and also for more medically oriented investigations into disease mechanisms and drug design.

In addition to scientists, students and educators use the digital resource for their own explorations of protein structure, function and interactions as well as to gain greater knowledge about biology.

Number of structures available in the PDB per year, with selected examples. For details, see http://www.eurekalert.org/multimedia/pub/73206.php?from=267554 Exit icon.

Approximately 260,000 visitors access PDB each month. Scientists around the world currently deposit about 200 structures per week, which PDB staff review, annotate and augment with links to other relevant biological data. To meet the challenges posed by large structures, complex chemistry and use of multiple experimental methods, the repository recently launched a software tool for structure deposition and annotation Exit icon.

If you aren’t already a PDB user, I encourage you to check out its resources to see if they could help advance your research.

 

Watch the May 23 Advisory Council Meeting Live or Later

Once again, we’re videocasting the open session of the National Advisory General Medical Sciences Council meeting. The half-day session begins at 8:30 a.m. on Friday, May 23, with opening remarks by NIGMS Director Jon Lorsch.

We’ll also hear talks by NIH Chief Officer for Scientific Workforce Diversity Hannah Valantine and Council member Richard Lalonde of Pfizer, Inc.

Other items on the agenda include presentations on our cell repository and our postdoctoral research associate program as well as a concept clearance for data reproducibility training modules.

If you can’t view the meeting live, you can watch it later in the videocast archive.

You’re also welcome to attend the meeting in person and make comments during the public comment period.