Proposed Reorganization of NIGMS Scientific Divisions

I’d like to make you aware of a proposed reorganization of the Institute’s scientific divisions that we are considering.

Currently, NIGMS has four scientific divisions: Biomedical Technology, Bioinformatics, and Computational Biology (BBCB); Cell Biology and Biophysics (CBB); Genetics and Developmental Biology (GDB); and Pharmacology, Physiology, and Biological Chemistry (PPBC). We would like to shift to a structure in which there are only three scientific divisions: Biophysics, Biomedical Technology, and Computational Biosciences (BBCB); Genetics and Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology (GMCDB); and Pharmacology, Physiology, and Biological Chemistry.

In broad strokes, the current CBB cell biology branch and most of the grants it manages would move to the new Genetics and Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology division, and the CBB biophysics branch would move to the new Biophysics, Biomedical Technology, and Computational Biosciences division. A few grant portfolios from CBB would be transferred to the existing Division of Pharmacology, Physiology, and Biological Chemistry.

This proposed reorganization does not reflect any change in scientific emphasis or interests by the Institute. Rather, it is an attempt to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our support for fundamental biomedical research, consistent with two goals outlined in our strategic plan [PDF, 702KB]: enhance the effectiveness of our support for fundamental biomedical research and improve the efficiency of our internal operations.

The proposed restructuring also includes establishing the Center for Research Capacity Building as a full division, consistent with its unique place in the Institute. In addition, based on a recommendation from the Steering Committee of the Office of Emergency Care Research (OECR), we plan to transfer the office to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). Because of NINDS’ strong expertise in and support for clinical research related to emergency medicine, it is extremely well-suited to promoting the mission of OECR.

You might wonder what the proposed reorganization will mean for your current or future funding. Our commitment to funding fundamental biomedical research and research capacity building programs remains the same, so the amount of money allocated to these areas will not change as a result of the proposed reorganization. We also expect that most grantees will continue working with their current program directors and grants management specialists.

Soliciting input from the community is among the steps that need to occur before any changes can be implemented. We invite you to share your thoughts on these plans by commenting here or by email. Input will be received through December 4, 2017.

New Area for NIGMS Predoctoral Training

NIGMS has a longstanding commitment to graduate training and has for many years supported research training in 11 broad areas of basic biomedical science, including Behavioral-Biomedical Sciences Interface; Bioinformatics and Computational Biology; Biostatistics; Biotechnology; Cellular, Biochemical, and Molecular Sciences; Chemistry-Biology Interface; Genetics; Molecular Biophysics; Molecular Medicine; Pharmacological Sciences; and Systems and Integrative Biology.

With publication of the NIGMS’ new predoctoral training grant funding opportunity announcement, the list now includes Transdisciplinary Basic Biomedical Sciences. This new area is designed to broaden the scope of disciplines supported by an NIGMS training grant and increase the geographical distribution of institutions that might apply.

The transdisciplinary area is open only to a) institutions that currently do not have an NIGMS-funded institutional predoctoral T32 training program in any of the basic biomedical science disciplines listed above (with the exception of Behavioral-Biomedical Sciences Interface or Biostatistics), or b) institutions with current NIGMS-funded predoctoral T32 training programs that propose to merge two or more of their existing NIGMS-funded predoctoral training programs into a single program. Training supported in this area is expected to be broadly-based and multidisciplinary in nature and may be covered by the other NIGMS-supported areas of basic biomedical science disciplines, or may include other emerging area(s) within the NIGMS mission.

Applications for the Transdisciplinary Basic Biomedical Sciences area will be accepted for the May 25, 2018, receipt date and thereafter.

We welcome your comments and questions—they can be posted here, emailed to me, or you may call 301-594-3900.

Webinar for Regional Technology Transfer Accelerator Hubs for IDeA States FOA

UPDATE: The slides and video Exit icon from the Regional Technology Accelerator Hubs webinar have been posted.

If you or your institution are considering applying for our Regional Technology Transfer Accelerator Hubs for IDeA States (STTR) funding opportunity—a new initiative designed to promote biomedical entrepreneurship—don’t miss our upcoming webinar:

Wednesday, November 15, from 3:00-4:30 p.m. ET.

During the webinar, NIGMS and Center for Scientific Review staff will explain the goals and objectives of the initiative and answer your questions. You are encouraged to submit questions by November 13 to Krishan Arora.

To join the webinar, visit the WebEx meeting page Exit icon. If you are unable to attend online, you can join by phone by calling 1-650-479-3208 from anywhere in the United States or Canada and entering the access code 628 562 389.

NIGMS Staff Participating in the November 15 Webinar:

Krishan K. Arora, Program Director, NIGMS

Joseph Gindhart, Program Director, NIGMS

Christy Leake, Grants Management Team Leader, NIGMS

Allen Richon, Scientific Review Officer, NIH Center for Scientific Review

Slides will be available on the IDeA website following the event.

We look forward to talking with you soon.

New NIGMS Funding Opportunity: Collaborative Program Grants for Multidisciplinary Teams

We’ve published a new funding opportunity announcement (FOA) to support multidisciplinary, collaborative team research in scientific areas within the mission of NIGMS. The Collaborative Program Grant for Multidisciplinary Teams (RM1) aims to support highly integrated, interdisciplinary teams working toward a common scientific goal. The RM1 program replaces NIGMS Program Project Grants (P01) and most of NIGMS’ P50 centers programs (with the exception of the Structural Biology of HIV/AIDS centers). The first receipt date for the new program is January 25, 2018.

RM1 applications should have a unified scientific goal within the NIGMS mission that requires a team with diverse perspectives and expertise in a variety of intellectual or technical areas. We are seeking projects that are challenging, ambitious, and innovative, with the potential to produce lasting advances in their fields. Unlike many larger programs, NIGMS Collaborative Program Grants require one integrated research plan and a separate management plan that addresses shared leadership, responsibility for decision making and resource allocation, and opportunities for professional development and credit. Optionally, the team can expand to support early stage investigators (ESIs) in pilot projects that enrich program objectives and help the ESIs obtain independent funding.

In general, we expect that the research supported by Collaborative Program grants will be the primary focus of the principal investigators (PIs) rather than being in addition to the main work going on in their individual laboratories. Guidelines for investigator effort and details about how the PIs’ other support will be considered when making funding decisions can be found in the FOA and on the Institute’s website. Interested applicants are strongly encouraged to discuss research plans with NIGMS staff before submission.

If you have any questions about NIGMS Collaborative Program Grants, please contact Drs. Susan Gregurick or Paul Sammak.

New NIGMS Institutional Predoctoral Training Grant Funding Opportunity Announcement

We’ve just released a new training funding opportunity announcement (FOA) specifically tailored for predoctoral graduate programs in the basic biomedical sciences. Through this FOA, we intend to encourage changes in biomedical graduate training that allow it to keep pace with the rapid evolution of the research enterprise, which is increasingly complex, quantitative, interdisciplinary, and collaborative.

The overarching objective of this new predoctoral T32 training program is to develop a diverse pool of well-trained scientists who have the following:

  • A broad understanding across biomedical disciplines, and the skills to independently acquire the knowledge needed to advance their chosen field.
  • The ability to think critically, independently, and to identify important biomedical research questions and approaches that push forward the boundaries of their areas of study.
  • A strong foundation in scientific reasoning, rigorous research design, experimental methods, quantitative and computational approaches, as well as data analysis and interpretation.
  • A commitment to approaching and conducting biomedical research responsibly and with integrity.
  • Experience initiating, conducting, interpreting, and presenting rigorous and reproducible biomedical research with increasing self-direction.
  • The ability to work effectively in teams with colleagues from a variety of cultural and scientific backgrounds, and to promote inclusive and supportive scientific research environments.
  • The skills to teach and communicate scientific research methodologies and findings to a wide variety of audiences (e.g., discipline-specific, across disciplines, and the public).
  • The knowledge, professional skills, and experiences required to identify and transition into careers in the biomedical research workforce (i.e., the breadth of careers that sustain biomedical research in areas that are relevant to the NIH mission).

Because diversity at all levels is integral to research and training excellence, this FOA is also intended to fund outstanding research training environments that support trainees from all backgrounds, and to enhance diversity in the biomedical enterprise by paying particular attention to the inclusion of individuals from groups underrepresented in the biomedical sciences.

The goal is of this FOA is to enable the community to develop and implement innovative approaches to training and mentoring that will effectively and efficiently train future generations of outstanding biomedical scientists. This funding announcement is designed to allow biomedical graduate education to preserve the best elements of the current system, while enhancing the focus on the trainee development of the technical, operational, and professional skills needed to transition into successful and productive careers in the biomedical research workforce.

The new FOA will apply to all NIGMS predoctoral T32 training grants submitted for receipt dates beginning May 25, 2018, except the Medical Scientist Training Program, which will remain on the parent T32 announcement for now. Because this is a new funding announcement, all applications (including those from previously established programs) must be submitted as new (-01), however applicants may describe up to 15 years of outcomes in the narrative.

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can email your questions and comments or post them here.

Four NIGMS Grantees Recognized With 2017 Nobel Prizes

I’m delighted to congratulate four members of the NIGMS community who became Nobel laureates this week. Early this morning, the Nobel Academy announced Joachim Frank, Ph.D., of Columbia University as one of today’s winners of the Nobel Prize in chemistry for the development of cryo-electron microscopy, which simplifies and improves the imaging of biomolecules. On Monday, the Academy recognized current and former NIGMS grantees Jeffrey C. Hall, Ph.D., of the University of Maine; Michael Rosbash, Ph.D., of Brandeis University; and Michael W. Young, Ph.D., of Rockefeller University, with the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for their discoveries of molecular mechanisms controlling the circadian rhythm.

Our Institute has a strong track record of funding scientists who receive Nobel Prizes. Since its creation in 1962, NIGMS has supported the work of 87 Nobel laureates—43 in physiology or medicine and 44 in chemistry. These investigators perform cutting-edge basic research in many different organisms and experimental systems that is the foundation for understanding normal life processes and disease.

The importance of investigator-initiated basic biomedical research, the NIGMS bedrock, was summed up brilliantly during this morning’s Nobel Prize announcement Exit icon. In response to a reporter asking why most of this week’s Nobel laureates are from the United States, Professor Göran K. Hansson, Secretary General of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, stated:

The United States has … allowed scientists to perform fundamental research to focus on important questions in science; not forcing them to immediate applications, not controlling them in a political way; and that freedom combined with very good resources have been very helpful to the United States.

Dr. Hansson noted that the United States is not alone in its philosophy, also recognizing the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, United Kingdom, and the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, Germany, for providing resources for basic, foundational science “that have turned out to pay off in practical applications later on. …”

To learn more about NIGMS Nobel laureates, see our fact sheet; also see our resources on circadian rhythms and cryo-EM.

Once again, congratulations to Drs. Frank, Hall, Rosbash, and Young on their exceptional recognition. These are also great wins for basic, foundational biomedical research.

Wanted: Center for Research Capacity Building Director

CRCB Search Committee Members:

Marie Bernard, National Institute on Aging

William Gern, University of Wyoming

Laura Gibson, West Virginia University Health Sciences Center

Patricia Hand, Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory

Jill Heemskerk, National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering

Laura Stanek, Office of Human Resources, NIH

Brent Stanfield, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

David Wilson, Tribal Health Research Office, NIH

Doug Wright, University of Kansas Medical Center

Dorit Zuk, National Institute of General Medical Sciences, Chair

Fred Taylor, distinguished leader of our Center for Research Capacity Building (CRCB), is planning to retire, and we’re embarking on a search for an outstanding individual to serve as the new CRCB director. CRCB supports research, research training, faculty development, and research infrastructure improvements in states that historically have not received substantial levels of research funding from NIH. It also supports faculty research development at institutions that have a historical mission focused on serving students from underrepresented groups, research and research capacity building directed by Native American and Alaska Native tribal organizations, and conducts a science education program designed to improve life-science literacy. CRCB is composed of four programs: Institutional Development Awards, Native American Research Centers for Health, Science Education Partnership Awards, and Support of Competitive Research.

The CRCB director will have the opportunity to set priorities, lead change, and strengthen the biomedical research enterprise across the United States. The center director reports to the NIGMS director and is a member of the NIGMS senior leadership team, which helps set policies and priorities for the Institute. There are also opportunities to participate in and advise on NIH-wide activities and collaborations with other federal agencies.

Candidates must possess an M.D., Ph.D., or equivalent degree in a field relevant to the position. The ideal candidate will have considerable research experience in basic, clinical, or translational biomedical science; a demonstrated understanding of the conditions that disproportionately affect underserved populations; and knowledge related to the NIGMS mission. In addition, candidates should possess recognized research management and leadership abilities.

For additional information and application instructions, please see the vacancy announcement. NIGMS will accept applications for at least 45 days from October 2, 2017, but it will not close the application process until a candidate has been selected.

As chair of the search committee, I ask for your help in identifying candidates for this crucial position and in sharing this information with others who might be interested.

Take Charge of Your Scientific Journey With a New iBiology Course

UPDATE: Enrollment for the course is open until October 15.

The path to a successful career as a biomedical scientist is rarely direct: There can be stops along the way, and each person has different motivations, opportunities, and challenges. The path also depends, in part, on the institution, program, or department where the student is training, and finding the right scientist, mentor, or coach to help guide that journey isn’t the same for everyone. A new online training program supported through an Innovative Programs to Enhance Research Training (IPERT) grant to iBiology can help participants navigate this process.

Planning Your Scientific Journey Exit icon,” provides training for undergraduate and graduate students on successfully navigating the path to a research career. The interactive lessons may be useful for postdocs and early career scientists, too. Topics include:

  • Developing a good scientific question
  • Establishing a plan of action
  • Asking for advice and developing collaborations

The free 6-week course will take place October 2 to November 13. The course can accommodate nearly 20,000 participants. New course content will be released on a weekly basis to allow students time to focus on each week’s lessons. The course is expected to be offered again in either the spring or fall of 2018. Ultimately, iBiology plans to make this course available in a self-paced format—further enhancing students’ ability to benefit from the course offering, and to revisit the course content at any time.

iBiology is just one of the awardees in our IPERT program. IPERT R25 grants support creative and innovative research educational activities that are designed to complement and/or enhance the training of a workforce to meet the nation’s biomedical research needs. Each IPERT grant must also address the NIGMS goal of creating a highly skilled and diverse biomedical workforce, and integrate three required elements: short courses/workshops for skill development, mentoring, and outreach. To learn more, visit the IPERT webpage. The next receipt date for applications is January 23, 2018.

Notice: Concept Clearance for MIDAS Coordination Center

Watch the MIDAS presentation at the September Advisory Council meeting.

At its September 2017 meeting, our Advisory Council endorsed the concept of a MIDAS Coordination Center.

MIDAS, or the Models of Infectious Disease Agent Study program, is a collaborative network of research groups that focus on developing bioinformatics tools and computational models to understand the interactions between infectious agents and their hosts, disease spread, prediction systems, and response strategies.

Initially the MIDAS network consisted of research centers (U54s), research projects (U01s), and an information service group (U24). These activities will expire in 2019, and NIGMS is shifting the focus of this program to an investigator-initiated research portfolio consisting of R01s, R35 MIRA grants, and fellowships and mentored career development awards (Fs, Ks).

However, modeling of infectious disease agents continues to be an active area where a coordinated effort is needed. NIGMS Council members supported the concept of a MIDAS Coordination Center. We envision the MIDAS Coordination Center to serve as a focal point for collaboration and training as well as testing and dissemination of MIDAS research products. The center will also act as the point of contact between the MIDAS network and public health organizations.

We expect to issue a funding opportunity announcement in early 2018, and we encourage the community to watch the presentation at our Council meeting to learn more about this program. We welcome your input and feedback on these plans. You can email your comments to me or post them here.

Multiple Principal Investigator (MPI) Application – When Is it the Right Choice?

For some time now, NIH has offered the Multiple Program Director/Principal Investigator (PD/PI) Award, also known as the MPI award, as an option for investigators seeking support for research projects. At NIGMS, we’ve been thinking about collaborative research, and we want to share some of our observations so you can choose the grant mechanism that best fits your research goals.

An MPI application is a commitment by two or more investigators. Both/all have the authority to direct the research project, should agree on how they are going to accomplish this, and will describe their project leadership plan in the grant application. If awarded, both/all have the shared responsibility to direct the research and ensure that it remains on track both intellectually and logistically. Some examples of these shared tasks include experimental design, resource allocation, supervision of staff, financial management, data sharing, and submission of publications. The responsibilities can be rotated over time. If both/all investigators are not full and equal partners in the award, it isn’t really an MPI project.

The MPI award was developed to share credit among equals on research teams. In contrast, some applicants want to use MPI awards to accomplish unintended goals, for example, to elevate a junior scientist, to entice a luminary colleague who might not otherwise get involved, to add a new technical approach to the research, or to support a collaborator at another institution. However, there can be costs associated with such strategies:

  • A young scientist PD/PI will lose her/his early stage investigator (ESI) status, which offers the advantage of having an application grouped with other ESIs at the initial review group meeting, a higher priority funding consideration, and sometimes a fifth year of an award.
  • All PD/PIs will be considered under NIGMS’ policy for Support of Research in Well-Funded Laboratories, so that if any investigator has greater than $750,000 in direct costs awarded annually, then the entire application will receive extra scrutiny by our National Advisory Council.
  • Furthermore, any PDs/PIs who fall under NIGMS’ policy for funding Investigators with Substantial, Unrestricted Research Support may hold no more than one NIGMS research grant.

Other types of awards, including a single PD/PI regular research grant (R01), may be better alternatives to an MPI award for supporting collaborative research. Here are a few points that investigators should consider:

  • Collaborators often play an important role in a project and may commit specific effort and receive funds from an award. If at another institution, funds essential to accomplish the research can be delivered through a subcontract.
  • Another viable way to enable an individual to participate in a research project is to name a consultant in the necessary area of expertise. Consultants can receive a fee for their work, if appropriate.
  • Almost any relationship can be well-documented in a letter of support, so that the initial review group recognizes an established and committed scientific relationship.

The MPI award fills an important niche. But the mechanism can be misunderstood and may even be misused to the detriment of one or more of the PD/PIs. Always look carefully at the continuum of opportunities to support multidisciplinary research programs and collaborative research.

Starting this fall, NIGMS anticipates offering a new award called the Collaborative Program Grant for Multidisciplinary Teams (RM1), which is designed to support highly integrated teams of researchers working to achieve a shared objective. Watch the Feedback Loop posts and talk to your NIGMS program director to learn more.