NIGMS is in the process of considering how best to support two important activities: the development of biomedical technologies and access to those technologies as they become research resources. These topics are strongly related, but there are aspects of each that should be explored independently. An important part of this process is getting input from the community, so we’ve issued a request for information (RFI) focused on technology development. A subsequent RFI will extend the discussion to the support of research resources.
There are two main issues that we’re thinking hard about right now as we consider how our technology development programs should be structured:
- The relationship between technology development and question-based biomedical research. We’re particularly interested in whether and how technology development and question-driven research should be coupled in different circumstances. Coupling technology development with addressing biomedical research problems can help ensure the relevance of the tools that emerge, but it may not always be necessary or appropriate.
- Supporting the full range of biomedical technology development. We’re interested in the effective support of all aspects of technology development, from the exploration of emerging concepts to the conversion of fragile technologies into standard tools.
I previously told you about the formation of two committees focused on Protein Structure Initiative (PSI) transition planning. These committees were charged with identifying high priorities for future NIGMS investments in structural biology and determining what unique resources and capabilities developed during the PSI should be preserved to address the needs of the scientific community. Dr. Leemor Joshua-Tor, one of the committee co-chairs, presented the groups’ report at the National Advisory General Medical Sciences Council meeting on January 23.
The committees’ recommendations for preserving PSI resources that the committees felt will be important for the community in the future include:
- Support for a modest number of protein expression resources to serve the needs of the community.
- Continued support for a materials repository similar to the one that has been supported through PSI.
- Possible continued support for a structural biology knowledgebase .
The committees identified these areas as high priorities for the future of structural biology:
- Continued support for synchrotron beamlines for crystallography.
- Support for modern cryo-EM resource centers.
- Continued support for NMR resources for structural biology.
- Support for the integration of structural biology methods.
- Support for collaborative, multi-investigator efforts in membrane protein and large macromolecular assembly structure determination.
We’re now developing plans for implementing the report’s recommendations.
NIGMS and the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research are leading the new NIH Common Fund glycoscience program that is focused on the development of accessible and affordable tools and technologies for studying carbohydrates and their functions. The overall objective is to enable researchers in all biomedical fields to dramatically advance understanding of the roles of these complex molecules in health and disease.
The NIH Common Fund recently issued four funding opportunity announcements from this program:
- Data Integration and Analysis Tools: Accessible Resources for Integration and Analysis of Carbohydrate and Glycoconjugate Structural, Analytical, and Interaction Data in the Context of Comparable Gene, Protein, and Lipid Data (R34)
- Novel and Innovative Tools to Facilitate Identification, Tracking, Manipulation, and Analysis of Glycans and their Functions (U01)
- Novel and Innovative Tools to Facilitate Identification, Tracking, Manipulation, and Analysis of Glycans and their Functions (R21)
- Facile Methods and Technologies for Synthesis of Biomedically Relevant Carbohydrates (U01)
The application deadline for each announcement is December 10, with optional letters of intent due by November 10. For more information about the glycoscience program, view the technical assistance Webinar or contact either one of us at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Earlier this year, I told you about the formation of two committees focused on Protein Structure Initiative (PSI) transition planning. These committees are charged with determining what unique resources and capabilities developed during the PSI should be preserved after the initiative ends and how this preservation should be done.
An important part of this process is getting input from the community, so we have just issued a request for information (RFI), NOT-GM-14-115, seeking comments about structural biology resources that have a high impact on the community, whether those resources have been supported through the PSI or by other means. We also want to hear what you think about the future of structural biology-related technology development, which has been an important feature of the PSI.
While the RFI invites comments on these specific topics, you should not feel limited to them—we welcome any comments that you feel are relevant.
To respond to the RFI, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org by May 23, 2014. When we compile the responses, we’ll remove any personal identifiers like names and e-mail addresses and only use de-identified comments.
If you have any questions about the RFI or the transition committees, please let me know.
Shortly after NIGMS Director Jon Lorsch announced plans to sunset the Protein Structure Initiative after the completion of the PSI:Biology phase in 2015, he commissioned two committees to determine what unique resources and capabilities developed during the PSI should be preserved and how that should be done. The committees, which are working together, held their first meetings in December and expect to present their recommendations within the year.
The external committee, which includes practitioners of structural biology and biomedical researchers who use structural biology data and resources in their work, will primarily focus on community needs. It also will suggest emerging challenges and opportunities in structural biology.
The internal committee, which is composed of NIH staff, will focus on how to implement the priorities identified by the external committee. The group includes a member from each NIGMS scientific division as well as several representatives from other NIH institutes who have experience managing structural biology and large, complex research programs.
The work of these committees will help define how we can provide continued access to important structural biology resources and identify new directions for technology development with potential for broad biomedical impact.
As Jon wrote in a Feedback Loop post about bolstering support for investigator-initiated research and as also reported in a Nature news article , the decision to sunset a large set-aside program that has received substantial investments, such as the PSI, should not be interpreted as a lack of support for team science. Multidisciplinary collaborations are likely to become increasingly important as we delve deeper into complex biological problems, and we will continue to sponsor team approaches to biomedical research. We also remain committed to supporting structural biology research through investigator-initiated grant mechanisms, innovative technology development and access to critical resources.