Notes from the Diversity Program Consortium Annual Meeting

DPC Annual Meeting Program CoverAfter attending the Diversity Program Consortium (DPC) Exit icon annual meeting in mid-October and learning about the progress the consortium has made and its future plans, we’re feeling energized as we begin the third year of this grant. The DPC, supported by the NIH Common Fund and managed by NIGMS, is a cooperative agreement focused on finding the best ways to improve research training and mentoring in the biomedical sciences and on engaging a more diverse field of individuals in biomedical research careers. The consortium includes three interconnected programs: Building Infrastructure Leading to Diversity (BUILD), the National Research Mentoring Network (NRMN) and the Coordination and Evaluation Center (CEC).

The annual meeting brought together over 100 representatives from NIH and each grantee site to discuss DPC achievements, challenges and opportunities. The agenda, organized by the CEC, included two full days of presentations and breakout sessions.

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New NIGMS Technology Development Program Announcements

We would like to tell you about two new technology development funding opportunity announcements (FOAs) recently published in the NIH Guide. We previously wrote about the approval of these programs by our Advisory Council. They are part of an ongoing effort to facilitate early stage, investigator-initiated work to create or improve tools for biomedical research. We think the two FOAs briefly described below will stimulate early stage technology research and development by allowing scientists to focus on making the technology work before they begin to apply those tools to biomedical research questions.

Exploratory Research for Technology Development (PAR-17-046): This program will support modest 2-year R21 grants to develop a new technology or radically improve an existing one. Projects will be high-risk and have no preliminary data. The proposed technology should be justified by a significant biomedical research need, but the proposal should not include the application of the technology to a biomedical problem—it should focus on technology development.

Focused Technology Research and Development (PAR-17-045): This program will support R01 grants that are entirely focused on the development of an emerging technology with a strong potential to impact biomedical research. The program will not allow inclusion of a significant biomedical research problem because the technology will not be ready for that until the project is over. These grants will be renewable only once.

The deadline for the first round of applications is February 16, 2017.

To help investigators determine which technology development program is right for their project, we’ve posted a decision tree on the NIGMS website. It includes descriptions of the programs designed to support all stages of technology development.

We welcome questions or comments about these FOAs or our technology development programs in general.

Stephanie Constant to Direct NIGMS Office of Scientific Review

Photo of Dr. Stephanie L. ConstantI’m pleased to announce that Stephanie Constant will be joining us in early 2017 as the new chief of our Office of Scientific Review.

Stephanie is currently a scientific review officer at NIH’s National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, where her review portfolio is primarily focused on training and career development programs to promote diversity in the biomedical workforce. She also worked on detail in NIH’s Office of Extramural Research, where she contributed to developing and updating policy guidelines to enhance the NIH peer review process. Prior to joining NIH, she was a tenured associate professor in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Tropical Medicine at George Washington University. Her research included studies on the regulation of leukocyte migration in acute and chronic inflammation and on the mechanisms of immunomodulation by parasite products.

Stephanie’s deep knowledge of NIH review policies and practices and expertise in the review of training and diversity grant applications make her an ideal fit for this key position in our Institute. Please join me in welcoming her to NIGMS.

For more about Stephanie, see our news announcement.

Your Perspectives: Catalyzing the Modernization of Biomedical Graduate Education

NIGMS actively supports efforts to catalyze the modernization of biomedical graduate education. We have undertaken a number of initiatives to stimulate this process, including hosting a symposium to showcase innovations in biomedical graduate education and providing administrative supplements to T32 predoctoral training grants to enhance rigor and reproducibility, career development and skills development.

On June 8, 2016, we took another step to encourage such change with the release of a Request for Information (RFI) seeking input on how our institutional predoctoral training grants program can be used to promote innovations in training. The RFI asked members of the community to weigh in on the strengths and weaknesses of the current system, the skills the next generation of graduate students should acquire, barriers to change and strategies to promote change through our institutional predoctoral research training grants.

We received 90 unique responses from stakeholders ranging from students and faculty to institutions and professional societies. Themes represented in the responses were organized around five major categories:

  • Institutional and training-related issues,
  • Skills development,
  • Systemic issues within the research enterprise,
  • Careers, and
  • Administrative and review issues.

Figure 1. Major Categories in Graduate Education RFI Responses. Bar chart showing the number of RFI responses in which one of the major categories was represented. A total of 90 unique responses were received for the RFI.

While NIGMS recognizes that those who responded to the RFI are unlikely to represent a random subset of the individuals and organizations who have a stake in graduate biomedical education, these responses provide insights regarding how members of the extramural community view the current challenges and opportunities in graduate biomedical education. As such, these comments will inform NIGMS’ ongoing efforts to catalyze the modernization of graduate education through a new predoctoral T32 funding announcement, which is currently under development. For more details about the analysis, we encourage you to explore the report.

Drug Design Data Resource: A Community Participation Project

If you develop or use software for structure-based drug design or generate data on drug target structures and ligand affinities, you may be interested in the Drug Design Data Resource (D3R) Exit icon. This is an NIGMS-funded project to collect and share high-quality protein-ligand data sets, develop computer-aided drug design workflows, and engage the community through blind prediction challenges.

The D3R, hosted by the University of California, San Diego, continues a program initiated by NIGMS under the Community Structure-Activity Resource (CSAR) Exit icon at the University of Michigan. A goal of this program has been to gather previously unpublished data from the pharmaceutical industry and other sources and to make it available for validating and improving software for predicting ligand poses and interaction energies. Several data sets have already been donated by companies, including Genentech, AbbVie, GlaxoSmithKline, and Vertex, as well as by academic groups. Both resources have also generated data sets internally or in collaboration with academia.

The data sets, which contain X-ray crystal structures of protein-ligand complexes and structure/activity data for multiple series of ligands, represent 13 different drug targets, including most recently for HSP90, MAP4K4, and designed steroid and vitamin D binding proteins. D3R has also collected data on host-guest systems and made this data available as part of the SAMPL Exit icon series of challenges for benchmarking software predictions of “simple” small-molecule chemical properties such as solvation free energy, partition coefficients, and binding to hydrophobic cavities.

Building on the success of its 1st Annual D3R Workshop Exit icon, in which the 2015 Grand Challenge Exit icon was discussed and summarized in a report, D3R just announced the 2016 Grand Challenge Exit icon. It is based on structures of the Farnesoid X receptor (FXR) and runs through February 2, 2017.

The resource also has developed a Continuous Evaluation of Ligand Pose Prediction Exit icon (CELPP) series of tests in collaboration with the World Wide Protein Databank Exit icon (wwPDB) and the Research Collaboratory for Structural Bioinformatics Exit icon (RCSB), another resource supported by NIGMS. The CELPP tests, which are distinct from the Grand Challenge, will provide chemical compound identifiers of bound small molecules in addition to the protein polymer sequence five days before release of 3D coordinates, giving developers an opportunity to predict docked poses each week.

D3R and its predecessor CSAR were developed to meet the needs of the drug design community identified during workshops several years ago. Continued community input and participation, including additional data donations, are important to help D3R fulfill its mission. Data releases can be coordinated with publication in other formats and venues. Contact D3R principal investigators Rommie Amaro and/or Michael Gilson or send email to drugdesigndata@gmail.com to see how you can be involved.