Funding Opportunities: Undiagnosed Diseases Network Gene Function Research, NIH Blueprint Program for Enhancing Neuroscience Diversity; Request for Information: Clinical Questions in Post-Resuscitation Hypothermia

You may be interested in the following announcements:

Undiagnosed Diseases Gene Function Research (R21)
(RFA-RM-14-005)

Purpose: Investigate the underlying genetics, biochemistry and/or pathophysiology of newly diagnosed diseases in association with the respective gene variant(s) identified through the Undiagnosed Diseases Network
Letter of intent due date: May 23, 2014
Application due date: June 23, 2014
NIGMS contact: Donna Krasnewich, 301-594-0943

NIH Blueprint Program for Enhancing Neuroscience Diversity through Undergraduate Research Education Experiences (R25)
(RFA-NS-14-010)

Purpose: Enhance biomedical research workforce diversity through the development of creative educational activities primarily focused on research experiences, skills development courses and mentoring activities
Letter of intent due date: April 28, 2014
Application due date: May 28, 2014
NIH contact: Michelle D. Jones-London, 301-451-7966

Request for Information: Current Clinical Questions in Post-Resuscitation Hypothermia
(NOT-GM-14-112)

Purpose: Provide feedback on the clinical research questions that need to be answered surrounding post-resuscitation therapeutic hypothermia
Response due date: May 30, 2014
Send responses to: Jeremy Brown, 301-594-2755

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.

Feedback at 400

Feedback Loop LogoThis is our 400th Feedback Loop post!

A review of the past 100 posts shows that the top five most-read were:

  1. Hypothesis Overdrive?
  2. Budget Outlook for Fiscal Year 2013 and Beyond
  3. Examining Our Large-Scale Research Initiatives and Centers, Including the PSI
  4. CSR’s Percentiling Recalibration
  5. Principles for Initial Funding Decisions in Fiscal Year 2014

It’s not surprising that many of the most popular posts were about budget trends and factors affecting peer review and funding decisions. We’ll certainly keep providing you with this kind of information, but we’re wondering if you have suggestions for other topics you’d be interested in reading about—and commenting on—as well. These could include occasional pieces like the one I posted late last month, which generated a lot of good discussion.

Please let me know your thoughts, either by posting a comment or by e-mail. We want to keep the feedback moving in both directions.

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.

Wanted: NIGMS Deputy Director

We have just launched the search for a critically important position on our leadership team: the NIGMS deputy director.

This person will assist me in managing the Institute, advise on a range of topics and handle special projects. He or she will also work closely with groups within and outside NIH and will represent us on various Federal and non-Federal scientific and professional committees.

We’re looking for someone with a distinguished record of leadership and scientific administration who has expertise in our mission areas, a deep understanding of biomedical research and knowledge of the grant process. The job also calls for strategic vision, innovative thinking, energy and enthusiasm!

It’s an exciting time to be a part of the NIGMS team and play a key role in our efforts to bolster the biomedical research enterprise. For more about the qualification requirements and application steps, see the vacancy announcement. The deadline for applying is May 27. Questions about the position should be directed to Mariela Light at 301-496-9788.

I encourage you to share this information with others who might be interested.

UPDATE: This vacancy listing has been extended to June 30, 2014.

New Mechanism to Support Research Educational Activities

As part of our efforts to develop and sustain a highly skilled and diverse biomedical research workforce, we have introduced a new mechanism to complement or enhance research training activities. The Innovative Programs to Enhance Research Training (IPERT) will support creative and innovative research educational activities through courses for skills development, structured mentoring activities and outreach programs.

We expect the scope, purpose and objectives of IPERT applications to be as varied as the potential applicants. Both institutions and organizations are eligible to apply.

An IPERT program should address a documented need, problem or challenge in research training and include measurable goals and objectives. Applications should explain the balance of effort and resources dedicated to each activity and how the activities will integrate. Proposals should also align with the NIGMS Strategic Plan for Biomedical and Behavioral Research Training, which recognizes that:

  • Research training is a responsibility shared by NIH, academic institutions, faculty and trainees.
  • Research training must focus on student development, not simply the selection of talent.
  • Breadth and flexibility enable research training to keep pace with the opportunities and demands of contemporary science and provide the foundation for a variety of scientific career paths.
  • Diversity is an indispensable component of research training excellence and must be advanced across the entire research enterprise.

The IPERT program may be of particular interest to institutions and organizations with current or past support from the MARC Ancillary Training Activities program (T36), which has lapsed and will not be reissued. Conference and meeting programs previously supported by the T36 mechanism may be more appropriately supported through the NIH conference grant mechanism (R13/U13).

While a letter of intent is not required, we strongly encourage anyone who is interested in submitting an IPERT application to consult with me or other staff of the NIGMS Division of Training, Workforce Development, and Diversity to determine if this is the best mechanism to support their ideas and plans.

Budget for Fiscal Year 2014 and Beyond

We recently posted our financial management plan for Fiscal Year 2014 and a budget table showing our Fiscal Year 2014 operating plan by mechanism. Consistent with our emphasis on bolstering our commitment to investigator-initiated research, we’re making every effort to move financial resources into research project grants (RPGs), which include R00s, R01s, R15s, R21s, R37s, P01s, DP1s, DP2s and U01s.

We estimate that these efforts will increase our RPG success rate from 19.9% in Fiscal Year 2013 to more than 22% in Fiscal Year 2014. This translates into funding about 100 more competing RPGs than we did in Fiscal Year 2013.

NIGMS’ plan aligns with NIH’s policies and includes these key elements:

  • We will fund noncompeting RPGs at the committed levels. We will restore those already funded at 90% to the committed levels.
  • The overall average cost of competing RPGs will be at approximately 2% above the Fiscal Year 2013 level.
  • We will fund noncompeting IDeA and AIDS research centers, which have required budget levels or a specific mandated policy, at the committed levels.
  • We will reduce other P41, P50 and U54 noncompeting awards by 10% from the committed levels. We will revise those already funded at levels below 90% accordingly. Future funding levels for these center mechanisms will depend on the Institute’s budget and efforts to increase support for our investigator-initiated RPG pool.
  • We will reduce by approximately 50% the funds set aside for new and competing research center awards in response to the targeted funding opportunity announcements we issued recently:
  • We will increase Ruth L. Kirschstein undergraduate and graduate student stipends by 2%. Entry-level postdoctoral stipends will increase to $42,000, with 4% increases between the years of experience levels. See NOT-OD-14-046 for the full range of Fiscal Year 2014 stipends.
  • We will continue to support new investigators on R01-equivalent awards at success rates comparable to or better than those of established investigators submitting new (Type 1) R01-equivalent applications.

Looking ahead to Fiscal Year 2015, you can find information about the President’s budget request for NIH and read the NIGMS Fiscal Year 2015 budget justification to learn more about the specifics of the proposed budget for our Institute.

Last Submission Deadline for Collaborative Science Supplements

NIGMS grantees have one final opportunity to introduce new collaborations into their ongoing research projects through the Supplements for Collaborative Science (SCS) program. The submission deadline in response to NOT-GM-11-105 is May15, 2014. Investigators can request supplements of up to $90,000 per year in direct costs for two collaborating labs or up to $135,000 per year for three collaborating labs.

The proposed research must be within the original scope of the project and should propose approaches not used previously by the principal investigator. All collaborators should be able to make significant intellectual contributions, and we especially encourage proposals that involve less commonly combined areas of expertise.

To be eligible, an NIGMS parent R01 or R37 award must be actively funded through November 30, 2015. Proposals may request support to cover a period up to the end of the parent project. The application now requires that collaborating investigators provide a letter of commitment and “other support” page countersigned by their institutional official. Send any additional questions to me at andersonve@nigms.nih.gov or to Sue Haynes at hayness@nigms.nih.gov.

The SCS program is very competitive, so if you are interested in submitting an application, we recommend that you first discuss your potential proposal—and its new and novel aspects—with the program director of your grant.

Hypothesis Overdrive?

Historically, this blog has focused on “news you can use,” but in the spirit of two-way communication, for this post I thought I would try something that might generate more discussion. I’m sharing my thoughts on an issue I’ve been contemplating a lot: the hazards of overly hypothesis-driven science.

When I was a member of one study section, I often saw grant applications that began, “The overarching hypothesis of this application is….” Frequently, these applications were from junior investigators who, I suspect, had been counseled that what study sections want is hypothesis-driven science. In fact, one can even find this advice in articles about grantsmanship Exit icon.

Despite these beliefs about “what study sections want,” such applications often received unfavorable reviews because the panel felt that if the “overarching hypothesis” turned out to be wrong, the only thing that would be learned is that the hypothesis was wrong. Knowing how a biological system doesn’t work is certainly useful, but most basic research study sections expect that a grant will tell us more about how biological systems do work, regardless of the outcomes of the proposed experiments. Rather than praising these applications for being hypothesis-driven, the study section often criticized them for being overly hypothesis-driven.

Many people besides me have worried about an almost dogmatic emphasis on hypothesis-driven science as the gold standard for biomedical research (e.g., see Jewett, 2005; Beard and Kushmerick, 2009; Glass, 2014 Exit icon). But the issue here is even deeper than just grantsmanship, and I think it is also relevant to recent concerns over the reproducibility of scientific data and the correctness of conclusions drawn from those data Exit icon. It is too easy for us to become enamored with our hypotheses, a phenomenon that has been called confirmation bias. Data that support an exciting, novel hypothesis will likely appear in a “high-impact” journal and lead to recognition in the field. This creates an incentive to show that the hypothesis is correct and a disincentive to proving it wrong. Focusing on a single hypothesis also produces tunnel vision, making it harder to see other possible explanations for the data and sometimes leading us to ignore anomalies that might actually be the key to a genuine breakthrough.

In a 1964 paper Exit icon, John Platt codified an alternative approach to the standard conception of the scientific method, which he named strong inference. In strong inference, scientists always produce multiple hypotheses that will explain their data and then design experiments that will distinguish among these alternative hypotheses. The advantage, at least in principle, is that it forces us to consider different explanations for our results at every stage, minimizing confirmation bias and tunnel vision.

Another way of addressing the hazards of hypothesis-driven science is to shift toward a paradigm of question-driven science. In question-driven science, the focus is on answering questions: How does this system work? What does this protein do? Why does this mutation produce this phenotype? By putting questions ahead of hypotheses, getting the answer becomes the goal rather than “proving” a particular idea. A scientific approach that puts questions first and includes multiple models to explain our observations offers significant benefits for fundamental biomedical research.

In order to make progress, it may sometimes be necessary to start with experiments designed to give us information and leads—Who are the players? or What happens when we change this?—before we can develop any models or hypotheses at all. This kind of work is often maligned as “fishing expeditions” and criticized for not being hypothesis-driven, but history has shown us just how important it can be for producing clues that eventually lead to breakthroughs. For example, genetic screens for mutations affecting development in C. elegans set the stage for the discovery of microRNA-mediated regulation of gene expression.

Is it time to stop talking about hypothesis-driven science and to focus instead on question-driven science? Hypotheses and models are important intermediates in the scientific process, but should they be in the driver’s seat? Let me know what you think.

Funding Opportunities: Big Data Science, Initiative for Maximizing Student Development

You may be interested in the following funding opportunity announcements:

Big Data Science

Purpose: Research and develop new technologies in biomedical computing, informatics and big data science that will support rapid progress in biomedical research

  • Early Stage Development of Technologies in Biomedical Computing, Informatics, and Big Data Science (R43/R44)
    (PA-14-154)
  • Early Stage Development of Technologies in Biomedical Computing, Informatics, and Big Data Science (R01)
    (PA-14-155)
  • Extended Development, Hardening and Dissemination of Technologies in Biomedical Computing, Informatics, and Big Data Science (R01)
    (PA-14-156)
  • Early Stage Development of Technologies in Biomedical Computing, Informatics, and Big Data Science (R41/R42)
    (PA-14-157)

Application due dates: Standard dates apply
NIGMS contact: Peter Lyster, 301-451-6446

Initiative for Maximizing Student Development (IMSD) (R25)
(PAR-14-121)

Purpose: Develop new or expand existing institutional developmental programs at research-intensive institutions that prepare undergraduate and graduate students from diverse backgrounds for attaining the Ph.D. degree in biomedical or behavioral sciences and subsequent competitive research careers and leadership positions
Application due dates: May 1, 2014; January 26, 2015; January 25, 2016
NIGMS contact: Daniel Janes, 301-594-0943