Dr. Judith Greenberg

About Dr. Judith Greenberg

Judith is the deputy director of NIGMS. In the past, she’s also served as the acting director of the Institute and as the director of the Division of Genetics and Developmental Biology. She led the development of the NIGMS strategic plan issued in 2008 and the development and implementation of the NIGMS strategic plan for training issued in 2011.

Jon R. Lorsch Named NIGMS Director

Photo of Jon R. Lorsch, Ph.D. Credit: Mike Ciesielski.
                                   Credit: Mike Ciesielski

I am delighted to tell you that NIH Director Francis Collins today announced his selection of Jon R. Lorsch as the new director of NIGMS. Dr. Lorsch expects to begin his appointment here in the summer of 2013.

Dr. Lorsch comes to NIH from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, where he is a professor in the Department of Biophysics and Biophysical Chemistry. He earned a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Harvard University with Jack Szostak and was a postdoctoral fellow in biochemistry at Stanford University with Daniel Herschlag. His research, which NIGMS has funded since 2000, focuses on translation initiation in eukaryotes. During his tenure at Hopkins, Dr. Lorsch was also involved in graduate and medical education, including curriculum reform, mentoring and spearheading new biomedical education initiatives.

In meeting with Dr. Lorsch, I have been most impressed by his understanding of NIH and the issues that are central to the NIGMS mission of supporting basic research, research training and workforce diversity. He brings a passion for science, a commitment to education and demonstrated leadership. We very much look forward to welcoming and working with him.

Operating Under a Continuing Resolution and Sequestration

At this time, we are continuing to fund noncompeting grants at 90%, which is consistent with our practice during the continuing resolutions of fiscal years 2006-2012. We are taking a conservative approach to funding competing awards until we have a budget for the rest of the year. This may occur through another continuing resolution or an appropriations bill.

When we have more information about the budgetary outlook for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2013, I will share our funding plans. I want to assure you that we are working very hard to minimize the impact on our ability to fund grants.

For more information about NIH operations under the sequester, see the blog post from NIH’s Sally Rockey and a letter to grantee institutions about the potential impact of this budget reduction.

Progress Report on the NIGMS Strategic Plan

In 2008, NIGMS issued a strategic plan, Investing in Discovery, that was intended to provide guidance for the Institute over the next 5 years. How well have we done in addressing the plan’s strategic goals? After a critical self-examination, we have produced a progress report that describes some of our accomplishments, strategic decisions and outcomes.

To cite a few highlights, we have:

  • Maintained a funding success rate of approximately 24 percent and funded about 200 new/early-stage investigators each year.
  • Maintained peer review excellence through the implementation and evaluation of innovative review practices.
  • Examined our large-scale science initiatives to determine which to continue, change or phase out, while also ensuring that the resulting knowledge and resources are made widely available to the broader scientific community.
  • Published Investing in the Future, our strategic plan for biomedical and behavioral research training, which articulates a clear, multiyear approach and strategy to ensure that future NIGMS-supported training reflects scientific and workforce needs and contributes to the development of a strong and diverse biomedical research workforce.
  • Established a new Division of Training, Workforce Development, and Diversity, which merges NIGMS research training programs with activities that were previously in the Institute’s Division of Minority Opportunities in Research.
  • Launched this blog to share information about funding opportunities and trends, meetings and scientific resources with our grantees, applicants and others in the scientific community.

I encourage you to read the report for further details and to let us know your thoughts. Although the plan was originally envisioned as a 5-year guide, it is still relevant, and because we hope to have a permanent director later this year, we decided to wait until 2014 to pursue a new strategic planning process.

Blogging at NIH

Communication and transparency are core values of NIGMS, and the Feedback Loop is one way we put those values into practice. On the occasion of our 300th blog post, we take a moment to look back, look ahead, and look for your continued input.

Our former director, Jeremy Berg, started the Feedback Loop in 2005 as an e-newsletter distributed three times a year. In 2009, we switched it to a blog format to share information in a timelier way and provide a better platform for discussion. Since then, more than 50 NIGMS staff members have contributed posts announcing funding opportunities, meetings and job openings; offering application guidance and tips; sharing funding trend data and other analyses; and more.

Whether posted on the blog or addressed to me or other staff, your comments and questions have helped us provide or clarify information about the funding process and other topics important to you.

Since we created this blog, a number of other NIH components have started blogs of their own. Sally Rockey of the NIH Office of Extramural Research has been blogging for nearly 2 years on Rock Talk about grant policies, funding trends and other issues of interest to the extramural research community. And earlier this month, Francis Collins launched the NIH Director’s Blog to highlight recent discoveries in biology and medicine. We look forward to new opportunities for synergy with these and other blogs.

Above all, we hope you find the Feedback Loop a useful resource. As always, we welcome your comments, input and feedback on topics for future posts or other ways the blog can best meet your needs.

Wanted: Director of the Office of Emergency Care Research

As I told you in July, NIGMS houses the new NIH Office of Emergency Care Research (OECR), which was created to advance, coordinate and provide information about basic, clinical and translational biomedical research and research training within the emergency care setting.

The search is now open for an outstanding physician and leader in emergency medicine research to oversee this office as its first director. This position offers an important and unique opportunity to shape trans-NIH approaches to improving the health outcomes of persons with emergency medical conditions.

Candidates must possess an M.D. and professional knowledge of and skill in applying concepts, principles and methodology in clinical emergency medicine. For additional qualification requirements, evaluation criteria and application instructions, please view the vacancy announcements for:

Supervisory Medical Officer, GS15 Clinical, Extramural (NCI, NHLBI, NIAID, NIGMS, and NICHD)
Supervisory Medical Officer, GS15 Research, Extramural (NCI, NHLBI, NIGMS and NIAID)

You can apply to either one. A key difference between the two is that the first one requires a current, valid medical license. The listings close on November 4, 2012.

I encourage you to share this information with others who may be interested in applying.

UPDATE: This vacancy listing has been extended to November 6, 2012, due to weather issues during the week of October 29.

Watch Our 50th Anniversary Scientific Symposium Online

DeWitt Stetten, Jr. 50th Anniversary Symposium poster.

We’re looking forward to a very special event this week—a symposium on the NIH campus marking our 50th anniversary. If you can’t join us in person, you can watch the talks online.

The event is on Wednesday, October 17, from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m. Eastern time. NIH Director Francis Collins will lead things off by sharing his perspective on the Institute and the research it funds. Next will be talks by three NIGMS grantees—Carlos Bustamante, Kathy Giacomini and Tim Mitchison—who reflect the range of our support as well as the theme of our anniversary: “investigate, innovate, inspire.”

You can watch the event live or later.

Nobel Prizes Recognize NIGMS Grantee, Research Areas

Crystal structure of the β2-adrenergic receptor-Gs protein complex.We learned this morning that Brian K. Kobilka of Stanford University School of Medicine, whose research is supported by NIGMS and other parts of NIH, will share the 2012 Nobel Prize in chemistry with Robert J. Lefkowitz of Duke University Medical School, a long-time grantee of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. They are being recognized “for studies of G-protein-coupled receptors.”

Their seminal work, primarily involving the β-adrenergic receptor, has widened understanding of how these biologically and medically important proteins operate. It has also contributed to an expanding library of related structures, which have been notoriously difficult to obtain. And it complements the ongoing efforts of many other researchers, including those funded through a variety of special NIH activities, among them the NIH Common Fund Structural Biology Program, which NIGMS helps administer.

Dr. Kobilka’s “molecular masterpiece,” the high-resolution structure of the β2-adrenergic receptor attached to its G protein partner, was published just last year. We’re proud that our funding contributed to this achievement.

We also congratulate the 2012 Nobel laureates in physiology or medicine, Sir John B. Gurdon of the Gurdon Institute and Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University and the Gladstone Institutes. They’re honored “for the discovery that mature cells can be reprogrammed to become pluripotent.” Their advances have propelled this area of stem cell research forward and have opened up many new avenues of investigation that are being pursued by NIGMS grantees.

We are delighted that these prizes, which were awarded during our 50th anniversary year, offer a further testament to the importance and value of basic research. We look forward to continuing to support basic studies that form the foundation for new and better ways to treat and prevent disease and improve health.

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.