CSR Launches Competition for Ideas to Detect Bias and Maximize Fairness in Peer Review

As part of NIH’s efforts to address racial disparities Exit icon in grant funding, the Center for Scientific Review (CSR) has just launched two America COMPETES Act Challenges. We hope that the ideas we receive will help us maximize the fairness and vitality of the peer review process, and we encourage you to enter.

One challenge, New Methods to Detect Bias in Peer Review, solicits ideas for strategies to detect possible bias in the NIH peer review process. Submissions can include approaches, strategies, methodologies and/or measures that would be sensitive to detecting bias among reviewers due to gender, race/ethnicity, institutional affiliation, area of science and amount of research experience. We’ll award first place ($10,000) and second place ($5,000) prizes in two categories: best empirically based idea and most creative idea.

The other challenge, Strategies to Strengthen Fairness and Impartiality in Peer Review, seeks ideas for reviewer training methods aimed at enhancing fairness and impartiality in NIH peer review. The submission does not require the full development of training materials. However, ideas should be presented with enough detail to allow assessment of their ability to address fairness and impartiality in review with regard to gender, race/ethnicity, institutional affiliation, area of science and amount of research experience. We’ll give first place ($10,000) and second place ($5,000) prizes for the best overall idea.

The challenges close on June 30, and winners will be announced on September 2. Details on the rules and submission procedures are on the CSR Challenge Web site and at http://www.challenge.gov Exit icon.

This contest is just one of many initiatives CSR is working on to evaluate the sources of racial disparities in grant funding in collaboration with the ACD Diversity Working Group Subcommittee on Peer Review.

Change in NIH Application Resubmission Policy

NIH has just announced a significant change in its policy for resubmission applications.

Effective immediately, for application due dates after April 16, 2014, following an unsuccessful resubmission (A1) application, applicants may submit the same idea as a new (A0) application for the next appropriate due date. NIH will not assess the similarity of the science in the new (A0) application to any previously reviewed submission when accepting an application for review.

NIH’s policy for accepting overlapping applications remains in effect (see NOT-OD-09-100), so it will not accept duplicate or highly overlapping applications under review at the same time. This means that NIH will not review:

  • A new (A0) application that is submitted before issuance of the summary statement from the review of an overlapping resubmission (A1) application.
  • A resubmission (A1) application that is submitted before issuance of the summary statement from the review of the previous new (A0) application.
  • An application that has substantial overlap with another application pending appeal of initial peer review (see NOT-OD-11-101).

The NIH time limit for accepting resubmission (A1) applications remains in effect, as well (see NOT-OD-12-128 and NOT-OD-10-140). NIH will not accept a resubmission (A1) application that is submitted later than 37 months after submission of the new (A0) application that it follows.

Also remaining in effect is the NIH policy for new investigator R01 resubmission deadlines, described in NOT-OD-11-057.

Background and details on the new resubmission policy are in NIH Guide NOT-OD-14-074 and a blog post by NIH’s Sally Rockey.

Enabling Science through Data (Big and Otherwise)

NIH’s recent focus on data-intensive and data-driven biomedical research makes this an exciting time for me to be joining NIGMS and leading its Division of Biomedical Technology, Bioinformatics, and Computational Biology (BBCB).

New steps toward harnessing the power of data began well before my arrival and include the NIH Big Data to Knowledge (BD2K) initiative. The overarching aim of this initiative is to enable, by the end of this decade, a “quantum leap” in the ability of the biomedical and behavioral research enterprise to use the growing volume of complex data to produce important insights into biological systems. This is an ambitious goal that requires the collective engagement and expertise of NIH’s many institutes, centers, and offices, including NIGMS, as well as the scientific community.

My colleagues from across NIH have already come together to discuss future solutions that will benefit NIH and the research community as a whole. We recognize that no one-size-fits-all solution will emerge as the “data quantum leap.” Our hope is that by engaging academic, industrial and other biomedical stakeholders, we will impact the volume, variety, velocity, viability and ultimately value of the data that NIH invests in.

To jumpstart this activity, NIH recently issued a new funding opportunity announcement (FOA) for Centers of Excellence for Big Data Computing in the Biomedical Sciences. The purpose is to establish an interactive consortium of centers that will develop approaches, methods and software tools for the aggregation, integration, analysis and visualization of data across NIH-funded research areas. NIH also has issued a request for information on the development of analysis methods and software for big data; responses are due by September 6.

NIGMS and the BBCB staff were actively involved in crafting the new FOA and, more generally, have played a central role in the creation and organization of the BD2K initiative. We will continue to be active partners in this endeavor.

Big data is just one example of the division’s efforts. We foster research in a range of fields, including computational biology, bioinformatics, mathematical and statistical biology, and biomedical technology development. We also support programs that train people in many of these areas.

I’m so happy to be involved in shaping the division’s activities, and I look forward to working together with many of you to continue innovating basic biomedical research.

Advancing Emergency Care Research

I’m the director of the newly created NIH Office of Emergency Care Research (OECR), which is housed in NIGMS. For the past 11 years, I was an emergency medicine physician and clinical researcher. So you might be wondering why I’m writing a post for a blog primarily read by thousands of basic scientists. Don’t stop reading, though, because OECR and NIGMS-funded research have more in common than you might think. Let’s take a quick look at one area where basic and emergency medicine research interests converge—sepsis.

NIGMS supports both fundamental studies and clinical research on sepsis, including the PRoCESS (Protocolized Care for Early Septic Shock) clinical trial. This study is designed to determine if early intervention with rigorous, standardized care in sepsis and septic shock can improve clinical outcomes. It’s an astonishingly important effort to address a disease that often presents to the emergency department and that has a mortality rate of about 30 percent. Should the study demonstrate improved outcomes, it will change the care of some 750,000 Americans who develop sepsis each year.

In addition to sepsis, NIGMS funds research in other areas relevant to emergency medicine, including trauma, burn injury, wound healing, and anesthesia.

I’m committed to helping all parts of NIH improve outcomes for patients in need of emergency treatment, and stepping into the OECR position is allowing me to focus on the national challenges that face emergency medicine research. Toward this end, OECR has four objectives:

  • To develop and refine NIH’s existing research portfolios in emergency care;
  • To coordinate research projects that involve multiple NIH components;
  • To create ways to fund new research that impacts patients with time-sensitive medical conditions; and
  • To promote the training of the next generation of emergency care researchers.

It’s a big mission for a small office, but we are fortunate to have many energetic partners across NIGMS, NIH and the broader community.

Whether you’re a basic scientist or a clinician, the ultimate goals are the same, so I welcome your interest in and input on OECR activities.

Additional Reviewer Scoring Guidance for Overall Impact Scores on Research Applications

NIH has posted additional scoring guidance for reviewers to consider when determining overall impact scores for grant applications. Here are answers to some key questions about this new guidance.

Why provide more guidelines?

Scientific review officers and program directors noticed that reviewers have tended to arrive at overall impact scores by comparing the number of weaknesses and strengths in an application, rather than balancing the importance of the weaknesses and strengths. In addition, there was significant compression of overall impact scores around the perceived funding range. Both practices made it more difficult to gauge reviewer assessments.

What’s changed?

The additional guidance chart simplifies and clarifies the way in which reviewers should evaluate the overall impact of an application. In particular, it encourages reviewers to focus on the importance of the research problem and the likelihood that the project will succeed. The chart emphasizes a balanced assessment of the review criteria and the use of the entire scoring range. The general Scoring System and Procedure also includes a new, simplified scoring guidance chart for assigning individual criterion scores.

When will this change occur?

Some Center for Scientific Review (CSR) study sections used the new guidelines in application reviews for May 2013 advisory council meetings. So that these applications would not be disadvantaged by the deviation from the impact score distribution of previous review cycles used for percentiling, CSR recalculated the percentile base. The vast majority of study sections and special emphasis panels are using the new scoring guidance with the reviews for fall 2013 advisory council meetings.

Note: New scoring guidelines are also available for fellowships, career awards and institutional training grants.

Jeremy Brown to Direct NIGMS-Housed Emergency Care Research Office

Photo of Jeremy Brown, M.D.Last July, I announced the creation of a trans-NIH Office of Emergency Care Research (OECR) housed in NIGMS. OECR now has a permanent director: Jeremy Brown, M.D. His NIH appointment will begin in July.

Although the office won’t directly fund emergency care research and training, it will coordinate and communicate about basic, clinical and translational emergency care research activities at the NIH institutes and centers that do support them, including NIGMS. These efforts will create a higher profile for this critical area of biomedical research. OECR also will partner with other government agencies and organizations engaged in broader efforts to improve emergency care nationwide.

Dr. Brown brings an impressive mix of clinical expertise, research experience, management abilities and communication skills to this important new position. We welcome him to NIH and look forward to working with him.

Provide Input on Challenges and Opportunities in Pharmacogenomics

We are seeking input from the scientific community on challenges, opportunities and gaps in pharmacogenomics. Please help us shape future programs in pharmacogenomics by responding to the recently published request for information (RFI). The RFI asks for your input on several topics, such as:

  • Critical technological advances that can be applied to pharmacogenomics problems;
  • Specific tools, resources, methods and approaches needed to enhance our molecular, genetic and biological mechanistic understanding;
  • Ways to advance clinical implementation for improving health care outcomes, including safety, effectiveness, time and costs;
  • Synergies that might come from a research network;
  • Types of scientific endeavors that would best be funded by R01 grants in the field; and
  • Additional interfaces and interactions that should be developed by NIH with other funders or organizations.

Please take the time to comment on any or all of the above topics between now and the May 17 deadline. You may respond as individuals or groups. Working together, we can help advance this research area of great scientific interest and immediate health relevance.

Give Input on NIH Biomedical Research Workforce Plans

The report of the Biomedical Research Workforce Working Group of the Advisory Committee to the Director, NIH, includes recommendations that could have a broad impact on NIGMS training programs.

NIH has just issued a request for information (RFI) on implementing the working group’s recommendations. As summarized in a blog post by NIH’s Sally Rockey, the RFI seeks your input on these topics:

  • Developing individual development plans (IDPs) for those in graduate and postdoctoral training supported by NIH funds from any source,
  • The length of time NIH should provide support for graduate students,
  • Providing more uniform benefits packages for postdocs,
  • Gathering information about individuals receiving NIH support for their training,
  • Reporting by institutions of aggregate career outcomes of graduate students and postdocs on a public Web site,
  • Considering multiple career outcomes as indicators of success when reviewing training grants, and
  • Launching a dialogue with the extramural biomedical research community to assess how NIH supports the biomedical community, including faculty salaries.

I strongly encourage you and your colleagues to submit comments by the April 22 deadline, because your input is key to developing policies that serve the scientific community and improve the training experience of graduate students and postdocs.

Give Input on ‘Big Data’ Training Needs

To maximize utilization of the vast amounts of biomedical data and information that are being amassed, NIH has started to develop a series of activities grouped under its Big Data to Knowledge (BD2K) initiative. One of the efforts focuses on ways to train the workforce needed to manage, access, integrate and analyze large, complex datasets.

As a first step toward developing a set of recommendations, a BD2K working group has issued a request for information (RFI) on the short- and long-term training needs of individuals who work with biomedical data. The group is also seeking examples of programs or strategies to cross-train scientists at all career levels as well as comments on evaluating workforce skills and knowledge and developing a diverse research workforce. Your input, which should be submitted by March 15, 2013, will inform discussions during an upcoming BD2K planning workshop on training and education needs.

Crystallography Gets Support from United Nations, NIGMS

Laue X-ray diffraction pattern of a single crystal of a dimeric hemoglobin taken at the BioCARS structural biology research center. Credit: Vukica Srajer, BioCARS/University of Chicago, and William Royer, Jr., University of Massachusetts Medical School
Laue X-ray diffraction pattern of a single crystal of a dimeric hemoglobin taken at the BioCARS structural biology research center. Credit: Vukica Srajer, BioCARS/University of Chicago, and William Royer, Jr., University of Massachusetts Medical School

As NIH Director Francis Collins recently noted on his blog, this year marks the 100th anniversary of the first experiment demonstrating that X-rays are diffracted by crystals. Two years later, this discovery was recognized with a Nobel Prize in physics. For this and other reasons, the United Nations has designated 2014 as the International Year of Crystallography Exit icon. The designation offers an opportunity for organizations worldwide to increase public awareness of the field and promote access to crystallographic knowledge and activities.

X-ray crystallography is central to many areas of basic biomedical research, and NIGMS supports a number of major crystallographic efforts that may be of interest and use to you.

Since 2000, our Protein Structure Initiative (PSI) has undertaken the high-throughput determination of protein structures by crystallography and NMR methods, resulting in the deposition in the public Protein Data Bank Exit icon of more than 5,000 macromolecular structures. The initiative’s current phase focuses on the determination of biologically relevant and important structures. Members of the scientific community can nominate proteins Exit icon for structure determination, order protein plasmids and empty vectors Exit icon, and access PSI data and other resources Exit icon. Active PSI funding opportunities solicit applications for Technology Development for High-Throughput Structural Biology Research (R01) and Technology Development for Protein Modeling (R01).

We also have been involved in supporting the construction, upgrade and maintenance of synchrotron beamline stations for X-ray crystallographic studies. These activities include a state-of-the-art facility Exit icon at the Advanced Photon Source at Argonne National Laboratory, which we established in partnership with the National Cancer Institute. Our support of synchrotron facilities and of crystallographic technology development has improved access for NIH grantees and other users and increased the capacity for crystallographic data collection.

In addition, we now oversee the Biomedical Technology Research Centers, several of which focus on developing and applying innovative crystallography techniques. These resource centers provide broad access to instruments, methods, software, expertise and hands-on training.

I look forward to sharing more details about the International Year of Crystallography as activities get under way.