Dr. Stefan Maas

About Dr. Stefan Maas

Stefan, a molecular biologist, manages research grants in the areas of cell growth, differentiation, homeostasis and cell death. He also oversees SBIR/STTR small business grants in genetics and developmental biology and institutional training grants in systems and integrative biology. More

Outsourcing Lab Procedures: Results from Request for Information

I previously described our effort to solicit feedback from investigators on their needs and ideas for outsourcing laboratory procedures. Now I’d like to share a summary of the overall results and some observations based on the 35 responses we received (mostly from academia):

Related News Articles*

An eBay for Science Exit icon, Nature

Online Marketplace Helps Professors Outsource Their Lab Research Exit icon, The Chronicle of Higher Education

Have You Heard of Assay Depot? It’s the Amazon.com of Medical Research Exit icon, The Atlantic

Science for Sale: Academic Meets Industry Exit icon, Cell

* This reference list is not meant as an endorsement of specific marketplaces or services.

  • Unexpectedly, almost all of the services mentioned by respondents constitute technologies or methodologies currently available for outsourcing. The most frequently identified ones—next-generation sequencing, bioinformatics/statistics and mass spectroscopy—are offered as services by numerous companies and core facilities.
  • Several marketplace-type platforms have recently been launched that facilitate bringing together researchers and providers of desired laboratory expertise, technology and research services. For a short list, see the news articles included in this post.
  • Evaluating the quality and cost of procedures available for outsourcing is not always straightforward. Similarly, assessing a laboratory’s actual costs for specific procedures, some of which could be outsourced, is difficult. Performing such economic analyses could reveal new needs for outsourcing laboratory procedures.

While we realize that the feedback we received may not be representative of the whole community, the results lead us to conclude that there does not appear to be a need for a special initiative to develop novel outsourcing capabilities.

Explaining the 4-Year Duration of Most Research Project Grants

NIGMS program directors are often asked why most of our grants are made for 4 years. We’ve just posted this brief explanation on our Web site:

NIH is required by Congressional mandate to keep the average research project grant (RPG) length to 4 years. Since NIGMS primarily uses the R01 mechanism for RPGs and participates in few short-term mechanisms (such as the R21), it limits most R01 awards to 4 years.

NIGMS does award some grants for 5 years, including research program projects and centers. The Institute also funds 5-year R01s to most new and early stage investigators to provide extra time for getting their projects under way.

The limitation on the average length of RPGs has been in effect at NIH for more than 10 years, and it helps ensure that funds are available to support new competing awards.

What does it mean for you? Keep applying for project periods that are adequate for the proposed work and are for a maximum of 5 years. But be aware that unless you fall under the exceptions mentioned above, your award will most likely be limited to 4 years of funding.

Outsourcing Lab Procedures: What Are Your Needs and Ideas?

Do you want to have more or easier access to state-of-the-art technologies and methodologies for your research? Are there specific types of non-clinical laboratory procedures that you wish were available through an outsourcing service?

If you answered “yes” to either of these questions, then please consider responding to our Request for Information (RFI): Priorities for Outsourcing of Laboratory Procedures. The RFI will help us identify research areas, such as assays, measurements and computational and data management tasks, that could be developed into outsourced services perhaps by small businesses and possibly supported through new funding opportunities.

Responses, which are voluntary and anonymous, should be submitted electronically by May 1, 2012.

UPDATE: The response deadline has been extended to May 15 (NOT-GM-12-110).