NIH Data Science Leader’s Vision of a Digital Enterprise for Biomedical Research

Phil BourneI recently had the opportunity to talk to Phil Bourne, NIH’s associate director for data science, about some of the current Big Data to Knowledge (BD2K) initiative activities. I asked him how they tie together his vision of a digital enterprise for biomedical research and how they might benefit NIGMS grantees.

Phil explained that the goal of his office, commonly referred to as ADDS, is to achieve efficiencies in biomedical research, such as by making it easier for researchers to locate and manipulate data and software. “If we could just achieve a 5 percent improvement in efficiency in research that would be, in NIH budget dollars, more than $150 million a year that could be spent on funding more people and doing more research,” he said.

An active area that we at NIGMS are engaged in with ADDS is sustaining biomedical data resources, of which we support a fair number. As someone who previously set up databases and who now oversees them, I’m very passionate about this topic. A key question is how to sustain support of data resources in the current research budget environment. Led by Phil’s team, NIH has issued a request for information on sustaining biomedical data repositories that seeks input on every aspect of maintaining these resources. I encourage you to share your ideas by the March 18 response date.

Training is important in Phil’s vision for a digital enterprise, too. He told me of a number of recent training activities at NIH, including a “software carpentry” workshop for experimental researchers to learn how to use a wide variety of analysis tools. In a blog post about this and another event Exit icon, the ADDS office asks for suggestions on other types of data science courses to offer. They want to provide workshops that train more experimentally versed scientists to work with big data and take those skills back to their labs. In addition, the ADDS office is planning to stand up a workforce development center to catalog classroom and online courses in the data sciences.

Another effort that’s in the works is creating a virtual space called the Commons where researchers can share, locate, utilize and cite datasets, software, standards definitions and documentation. Phil anticipates that the first components of the Commons will be available in 2016.

I’m really excited about Phil’s efforts and believe that they will help drive the “data quantum leap” I described in my first Feedback Loop blog post.

Report and Recommendations from the Future of Structural Biology Committees

NIGMS Advisory Council Meeting: Report of the NIGMS Future of Structural Biology Committees

Dr. Leemor Joshua-Tor’s presentation of the report begins at 00:36:22 on the archived videocast of the National Advisory General Medical Sciences Council meeting.

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 Exit icon similar to the one that has been supported through PSI.
  • Possible continued support for a structural biology knowledgebase Exit icon.

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.

Tune in for Video Resources on Navigating Peer Review, eRA Commons

The NIH Extramural Nexus blog has published posts on video resources that you may find helpful:

New Webinars Connect Applicants to NIH Peer Review Experts: The Center for Scientific Review is hosting webinars in early November to give R01, R15, SBIR/STTR and fellowship grant applicants and others useful insights into the submission and review processes. Register by October 28.

New Video Tutorials Can Help You Navigate eRA Commons: A 10-part series of short video tutorials walks you through the steps for submitting just-in-time information, a no-cost extension, a relinquishing statement and more. Watch the tutorials on the NIH Grants playlist Exit icon on YouTube.

Ensuring Synchrotron Beamline Access for Biomedical Researchers

The National Synchrotron Light Source (NSLS) at Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) closed earlier this week as a newer, more advanced facility, NSLS-II Exit icon, began to come online.

Thousands of NIH researchers have used beamlines at NSLS over the last 30 years to collect data to characterize biological macromolecules including drug targets, ion pumps and enzymes. Because the beamlines for biological research Exit icon at NSLS-II will not be available until 2016, other synchrotron facilities are temporarily expanding their capacity to address the beamline reduction.

Here are some sources that will help you identify and access beamlines at other U.S. synchrotrons:

If you have questions about NIH-funded synchrotron resources, please contact me or Ward Smith.

Give Input on Structural Biology Resource and Infrastructure Needs

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 nigmspsirfi@mail.nih.gov 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.

Protein Structure Initiative Transition Planning Committees

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 Exit icon, 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.

Biomedical Technology Research Resources: Funding and Access Opportunities

Our Biomedical Technology Research Resources (BTRRs)—until recently known as Biomedical Technology Research Centers—develop and disseminate cutting-edge technologies and methods that allow scientists nationwide to advance their projects beyond the levels that could be attained using commonly available laboratory resources.

If you’re a researcher who works collaboratively to create and integrate potentially transformative biomedical technologies and are interested in providing service and training to the scientific community, you may want to apply for a BTRR grant. The first step is to submit your concept in a pre-application. Feedback from its review can help you decide whether to submit a full application.

If you’re a biomedical researcher with a project in need of technology resources, you may be able to access them at an existing BTRR. The Biomedical Technology Resources Portal Exit icon includes descriptions of the available resources Exit icon, including those funded through NIH’s National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, and instructions for accessing them Exit icon.

Before granting use of its technologies (whether remotely or in-person), the BTRR will evaluate your research project for demonstrated need as well as the level of engagement and assistance that would be required of resource staff. It’s also possible that, if your project has potential for advancing a newly emerging technology, you’ll be able to collaborate with BTRR investigators as they develop it. This close collaboration benefits your research and also furthers innovation at the BTRR.

For more details about the BTRR program, please contact me or Doug Sheeley.

Web Chat to Stimulate Student Interest in Cell Biology and Research Careers

Cell Day 2014: Web Chat with NIH Scientists. February 28, 2014. 10a.m. to 3 p.m. ESTWe’re hosting another Cell Day interactive Web chat on Friday, February 28, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. EST. During this time, members of the NIGMS scientific staff, including our director Jon Lorsch, will answer questions from students, teachers and the public about cell biology and research careers.

You can follow the chat live from the Cell Day Web site or read the transcript, which will be posted there shortly after the event. The site also includes registration information, the transcript from the 2012 event and classroom resources about the cell.

Please let people in your local schools and community know about Cell Day.

This event is just one example of the Institute’s commitment to encouraging and preparing future generations of scientists via formal research training and informal learning opportunities.

Fostering Open Science

Recently, I participated in a workshop on Open Science: Driving Forces and Practical Realities. The idea to make scientific research, data and information accessible to the public isn’t new and arguably has historical roots dating back to the late 1600s, when academic journal publishing began. But it’s particularly timely today in light of the rapid increase in the volume of data and the value it has to the public.

During the workshop, we explored the technical, financial, political and cultural forces that drive open science and how these forces impact information sharing, re-use, interoperability and the preservation of the scientific record. I also talked about NIH’s ongoing commitment to open science.

In 2003, NIH created a Data Sharing Policy, and, in 2008, it issued a Public Access Policy for publications. A Genomic Data Sharing Policy is currently in draft form. All of these documents communicate the need to ensure public access to the relevant biomedical data, information and publications that are a result of federally funded biomedical research.

In addition to establishing these guidelines, NIH funds projects that foster open science, including the RCSB Protein Data Bank Exit icon, The Cancer Genome Atlas, The Cancer Imaging Archive Exit icon, the Neuroimaging Informatics Tools and Resources Clearinghouse Exit icon and PhysioNet Exit icon. NIH is also playing a role in crowdsourced projects, such as the systems biology-related Dialogue for Reverse Engineering Assessments and Methods challenges Exit icon, as well as projects to develop common languages for research, such as the Common Data Element Resource Portal. Another exciting NIH-funded initiative is the Medical Device “Plug and Play” Interoperability Program Exit icon, which aims to create cost-effective and innovative third-party medical “apps” for clinical diagnosis, treatment, research and safety.

In preparing my presentation for the recent workshop, I recalled the day when I heard about the biomedical community taking a quantum leap forward into open science. It was the early spring of 1996, and I was eating lunch with my graduate student and postdoc colleagues. We were discussing the International Large-Scale Sequencing Meeting and the resulting “Bermuda principles” for the release of data generated by the Human Genome Project. We were particularly excited to learn that scientists associated with that project had unanimously agreed that all genomic sequencing data should be freely available and in the public domain prior to publication.

Nearly 20 years later, the move toward open science continues to offer a forum for scientists–from fields that range from astronomy and physics to medical and clinical research–to discuss policies and practical tools for collaboration. It also allows the community to come together and tackle the challenges and unique opportunities of sharing science in a truly collaborative way. I invite you all to join me in the discussion and in furthering progress in this important area.

NIH’s Sally Rockey on PubMed Comments, 2013 Success Rates, Lead Time for Inviting NIH Staff to Meetings

Within the last week, NIH’s Sally Rockey has published posts that may be of interest to you:

PubMed Gets Interactive: The broader public now can view opinions and information shared by authors on scientific publications in PubMed.

Application Success Rates Decline in 2013: An early analysis of 2013 competing research project grant applications and awards at NIH shows a downward trend for success rates. NOTE: We at NIGMS are currently working on our annual funding trends post.

Understanding Lead-time for NIH Staff Participation in Scientific Meetings: Invitations for NIH program, review or other staff to speak at or attend a meeting need to be made as early as possible due to approval requirements and budget constraints. NOTE: Sally Rockey’s post suggests at least 4 months advance notice, but at NIGMS, we recommend at least 6 months.