Remembering Longtime CBB Division Director Catherine Lewis

Dr. Catherine D. Lewis

It is with a heavy heart that I share with you the passing of Catherine D. Lewis, former director of the NIGMS Division of Cell Biology and Biophysics. As previously posted, Cathy retired in January after more than 30 years of service at NIH. Although already on the horizon, her plans for retirement were accelerated by a diagnosis of cancer and the need to focus her energies on trying to beat it. Unfortunately, she died just six months later, on July 12.

As noted already, Cathy made many contributions to the scientific community and over a lifetime made many friends. She regularly participated in meetings of the American Society for Cell Biology and the Biophysical Society, but also in more intimate gatherings of scientists such as FASEB and Gordon Research Conferences. She was always interested to hear about research advances and willing to provide guidance about NIH processes. She was equally comfortable engaging non-scientific audiences about the research supported by her division.

Cathy personally managed a robust grant portfolio of cutting-edge research in the fields of nanoscience and single molecule methods. Earlier in her NIGMS career, she managed grants in genetics and developmental biology, as well as grants in structural biology that led to the first crystal structures of the ribosome. She also helped oversee the Institute’s initiatives aimed at advancing structural genomics, improving methods for cellular imaging, creating a library of cell images and, most recently, supporting resources for cryo-EM and cryo-EM tomography.

Within NIH, Cathy was known for her work ethic and her ability to make people feel at ease. She managed a division responsible for more than 1,300 grants, and did so with grace, patience and a sunny smile.

Heads-up: FORMS-E Coming Soon

The application package for submitting all types of grant applications is about to change. Effective for receipt dates on or after January 25, 2018, applicants will have to use FORMS-E application packages. NIGMS is urging applicants to direct their attention to NOT-OD-17-062 and be ready for the change.

The change will apply to all funding opportunity announcements (FOAs) and all application types (new, resubmission, renewal, revision). Applications submitted using the wrong forms will automatically be withdrawn by the Division of Receipt and Referral within the NIH Center for Scientific Review and will not be reviewed. Application guides for FORMS-E application packages will be posted on the How to Apply – Application Guide page no later than October 25, 2017.

One of the best resources to help applicants stay on top of new and upcoming changes for grants and contracts at NIH is the Notices of NIH Policy Changes located on the Office of Extramural Research website. Please check this page frequently and, as always, contact NIGMS program and review staff with any questions.

Webinar for Bridges Applicants

UPDATE: The slides from the Bridges Applicants webinar have been posted.

Are you preparing an institutional Bridges to the Baccalaureate grant or Bridges to the Doctorate grant application? If so, you may have questions about the funding opportunity announcements, data tables and FORMS-D application package [PDF, 1.95MB] required for the upcoming September 25 application due date.

We’re offering a webinar Exit icon to discuss these topics on Thursday, August 10, from 2:00-3:30 p.m. EDT. You may send questions to us (Mercedes Rubio or Patrick H. Brown) before the webinar or post them live in the chat box during the event. If you’re away from your computer, you can access the webinar from a mobile device or listen to a voice-only option by dialing 1-888-469-1681 from anywhere in the United States or Canada and entering the participant passcode 4928788. Slides will be posted on the Bridges to the Baccalaureate website and Bridges to the Doctorate website following the event.

We look forward to talking to you about the Bridges programs.

NIGMS Staff Participating in August 10 Webinar

Division of Training, Workforce Development, and Diversity:

Mercedes Rubio, Bridges to the Baccalaureate Program Director

Patrick H. Brown, Bridges to the Doctorate Program Director

Office of Scientific Review:

Tracy Koretsky, Scientific Review Officer

Division of Extramural Activities:

Justin Rosenzweig, Grants Management Specialist

Five MIRA Myths

Our Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA) program is still relatively new, so it’s not surprising that NIGMS staff frequently hear misconceptions about it. This post dispels five common MIRA myths.

Myth 1: Once an investigator is awarded a MIRA, the budget will never increase.

MIRA budgets may increase. At the time of the competing renewal application, a principal investigator (PI) may request an increase in funding. MIRAs with modest budgets that have been very productive and score very well could receive budget increases. Study sections will be asked to look at budget requests, and NIGMS staff will make determinations based on the reviewers’ recommendations and available funds.

Myth 2: Early stage investigators will receive more funding for their labs if they get an R01 than if they get a MIRA.

A MIRA PI who is an early stage investigator (ESI) has a higher probability of receiving more NIGMS funding than a non-MIRA ESI. Most ESI MIRA investigators receive $250,000 in direct costs per year. A recent analysis found that the vast majority of ESIs who have received an NIGMS R01 are initially awarded $200,000 or less, and most do not go on to receive a second NIGMS R01 during the first five years of their initial award. Thus, the total NIGMS funding for most relatively new investigators is higher with a MIRA.

Myth 3: MIRA discourages collaborative research.

NIGMS strongly endorses collaborative research, and this extends to the MIRA program. However, the MIRA concept is based on the idea that NIGMS will provide support to individual investigators’ research programs. Collaborators are expected to work together because of their mutual interest in a problem. The collaborator, in most cases, will support his or her efforts with independent funding, not through a subcontract from the MIRA. In cases where a collaborator’s efforts are well-justified, essential to the research program of the MIRA and cannot be supported by the collaborator, a consortium agreement can be included in the competing application.

NIGMS also encourages scientifically productive international collaborative research efforts. However, NIGMS will only provide funding for a foreign consortium arrangement when the collaboration is essential to the PI’s research program, represents a unique scientific opportunity and cannot be supported by the collaborator.

Myth 4: MIRA PIs cannot apply for administrative supplements.

MIRA PIs are eligible for Research Supplements to Promote Diversity in Health-Related Research and may be eligible for other types of administrative supplements, such as equipment supplements offered by NIGMS through notices in the NIH Guide for Grants and Contracts. In rare situations, NIGMS may provide a supplement for a piece of equipment that could not have been anticipated at the time the application was submitted.

Myth 5: MIRA PIs cannot apply for NIGMS training grants or conference grants.

MIRA PIs are eligible to apply for grants that support research resources, training, workforce development or diversity building, clinical trials, selected cooperative agreements, SBIR/STTRs, conference grants and the portion of a center grant or a P01 that is strictly a core. In addition, a MIRA PI may receive grants from other NIH institutes or centers, although when making funding decisions NIGMS always considers an investigator’s other support, as described on our Funding Policies page.

More information, including answers to frequently asked questions, is on the MIRA page.

New Program Announcements for Biomedical Technology Research Resources

I would like to call your attention to two program announcements recently published in the NIH Guide:

These announcements provide updated instructions for both pre-applications and full applications for Biomedical Technology Research Resource (BTRR) grants. The BTRR program supports development and dissemination of advanced technologies that enable biomedical research The BTRR centers create a wide range of technologies and work with thousands of NIH-supported investigators each year.

The X02 pre-application is strongly recommended. The pre-application provides an opportunity for prospective applicants to receive feedback from both peer reviewers and NIGMS program staff as they formulate their plans for a complex, lengthy proposal for a P41 grant.

Following an evaluation in 2016, we have revised the BTRR program, while preserving the fundamental mission of developing and providing access to advanced technologies. Susan Gregurick, director of our Biomedical Technology, Bioinformatics, and Computational Biology Division, presented on the evaluation and proposed program changes at the September 2016 NIGMS Advisory Council meeting.

Revisions to the program have changed the structure of a BTRR to give the investigators who run the centers more flexibility in how technologies are shared with the community. A new feature, “Technology Development Partnerships,” will enable centers to rapidly adopt and incorporate emerging technologies developed elsewhere that advance a BTRR’s overall mission, rather than focus entirely on technologies developed “in-house.”

The program also will provide investigators with greater flexibility to tailor a center’s approach to technology innovation, user access and training, and dissemination according to the specific technologies being developed and communities being served. At the same time, the program will place a greater emphasis on actively moving technologies out of the BTRR and into the wider community as quickly as possible. We anticipate that most BTRR centers will not be funded beyond three cycles (15 years), and we will require investigators involved with this program to formulate a sustainability plan for their research resources.

The submission date for the first round of X02 pre-applications is August 15, 2017. Future submission dates will follow a regular schedule, occurring twice per year in March and July. That timing allows nine months from submission of the X02 until the anticipated submission of a resulting full application in January or May, respectively.

The next submission date for full applications for a P41 BTRR is September 25, 2017. This is the only submission date for funding in Fiscal Year 2018. In future years, applications will be accepted twice per year, in January and May, with no September submission. To improve consistency in the review of competing applications, the NIH Center for Scientific Review will convene a special study section to review all NIGMS P41 BTRR applications together. There will be no site visits.

NIGMS also supports technology development through several other programs. 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 specific stages of technology development.

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

FOA for Clinical Trial Planning Grants

NIGMS supports research in specific clinical areas that affect multiple organ systems. We recently reissued the funding opportunity announcement for clinical trial planning grants of high relevance to the NIGMS mission. We strongly encourage investigators to apply for a planning grant before submitting an application for a full clinical trial in one of the clinical areas that NIGMS supports. The next application deadline is August 7, with optional letters of intent due by July 7.

If you’re interested in applying for a clinical trial planning grant, we recommend that you consult with the appropriate NIGMS program staff  before you apply to determine whether the goal of the proposed trial aligns with the NIGMS mission and scientific priorities.

For more information, see our Clinical Studies and Trials webpage, which includes links to other useful resources like the NIGMS Guidelines for Data and Safety Monitoring in Clinical Trials. In addition, please note that last year NIH announced a suite of policy changes known as Clinical Trial Stewardship Reforms that are designed to improve the clinical trial application and award process as well as the sharing of clinical trial data and results with other researchers and the public.

If you have any questions about NIGMS’ support of clinical trials, please contact me.

Webinar and Other Resources for New MIRA ESI Funding Opportunity

UPDATE: The slides from the MIRA ESI Funding Opportunity webinar have been posted.

NIGMS recently reissued the funding opportunity announcement (FOA) for the Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA) program for Early Stage Investigators. The first application due date is October 3, 2017. As in previous years, the purpose of this MIRA mechanism is to provide support for the program of research in the laboratory of an early stage investigator (ESI) that falls within the mission of NIGMS. Here are some important points to know if you’re considering applying to this FOA:

  • To be eligible, you must have completed your terminal research degree (or medical residency) less than 10 years ago and must not have served as the principal investigator (PI) of a substantial NIH research award, e.g., an R01, P01, U01, SC1 or DP2. If you’ve served as the PI of one or more smaller awards, such as an R00, R03, R15, R21, SC2 or SC3, you retain your ESI status and can still apply to the ESI MIRA program. A complete list of the smaller grants and awards that do not affect ESI status is available on the Office of Extramural Research webpage.
  • ESI status can be extended for qualifying reasons, including but not limited to family care responsibilities or active military service. Here’s a complete list of qualifying reasons.
  • If you submitted a MIRA application in previous years and are still eligible for this FOA (i.e., retain ESI status), you’re welcome to apply but must submit a new application rather than a resubmission. A new application may still cover the same topics you proposed previously, but must not include any specific section explicitly designated as a response to reviewers.
  • If offered a MIRA, you must devote at least 51% of your time available for research to the award; however, note that taking less than 51% salary for the PI is allowed and in no case should more than 51% be requested.
  • Unlike previous rounds, you may have an NIGMS R01 application and a MIRA application under review at the same time. Should both applications score well enough to be considered for funding, you will be required to withdraw one or the other.
  • Applications that don’t fall within NIGMS’ mission will be returned without review, so be sure to contact me or the program director whose scientific area is closest to yours to discuss your proposal while in the planning stages!

These and many other topics related to the MIRA ESI FOA are covered in detail in a newly-released set of frequently asked questions.

We’ll also be hosting a webinar to discuss the FOA (no longer available) and answer your specific questions about the program on Monday, July 10, from 1:30-2:30 p.m. EDT. The site is compatible with mobile devices. For an audio-only presentation, call 1-888-989-5313 and enter passcode 8866047. We plan to post the archived webinar and slides on the MIRA webpage after the event.

NIH Staff Participating in July 10 Webinar

Jon Lorsch, Institute Director

Kristine Willis, Program Director

Brian Pike, Scientific Review Officer

Lisa Moeller, Grants Management Officer

Give Input on Strategies to Enhance Physician-Scientist Training Through the Medical Scientist Training Program

NIGMS has a longstanding commitment to developing the next generation of biomedical scientists through a variety of programs, including the M.D.-Ph.D. dual degree Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP). This program provides Ruth L. Kirschstein Institutional Predoctoral Training Grant (T32) awards to medical institutions that are responsible for training physician scientists. The Physician-Scientist Workforce Working Group Report [PDF, 6.2 MB] of NIH’s Advisory Committee to the Director highlighted the decline of physician scientists as a percentage of overall NIH principal investigators. NIH data presented at the 50th Anniversary Medical Scientist Training Program Symposium showed that while earlier cohorts of MSTP trainees were highly successful in achieving independent research careers and NIH grant support, more recent graduates have been less successful. Many factors may contribute to this difference, including lengthening of the post-M.D.-Ph.D. training period before achieving independence and increased competition of investigators for limited research funds and positions.

We are seeking input from the biomedical research community and other interested groups through a Request for Information (RFI) on strategies and ideas for the modernization of physician-scientist training that can be addressed through the MSTP.

More specific topics are included in the RFI, but examples of broad areas of interest are:

  • Trainees (e.g., time of recruitment to the MSTP, diversity of the applicant pool and selection criteria)
  • Financing/funding (e.g., how different M.D.-Ph.D. funding models influence the range of institutions that apply for MSTP support, the pool of trainees and the trainees’ commitment to research careers)
  • Dual-degree training (e.g., time-to-degree, integration of curriculum, training areas, mentoring and career advising)
  • NIGMS management of MSTP grants (e.g., size, number and distribution of training programs; evaluation of outcomes; and peer review)
  • Anything else specific to MSTP training that you feel is important for NIH to consider with respect to enhancing M.D.-Ph.D. training and the persistence of physician-scientist trainees in research careers (note that changes in post-M.D.-Ph.D. training and future research support are outside of the scope of this RFI)

Responses can be submitted via an online form Exit icon and can be anonymous. The due date for providing input is August 9, 2017.

Students ‘Build’ Connections and More at Scientific Conferences

For students in the biomedical sciences, attending conferences is a chance to share ideas and research experiences with colleagues from across the country, while learning about educational and career opportunities and building identities as scientists. Outcomes from student conference attendance may also help us to learn how students build and maintain scientific identities. At conferences over the past two years, we have witnessed undergraduate trainees from the more recently-established Building Infrastructure Leading to Diversity (BUILD) program joining colleagues from long-running NIGMS-supported grants, like Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement (RISE) and Maximizing Access to Research Careers (MARC).

Since BUILD is a fairly new program, it’s been great to see how quickly its trainees have embraced the opportunities conferences have to offer, from simply meeting other program trainees and sharing stories about their research to making valuable networking connections. BUILD, established in 2014, is a component of the Diversity Program Consortium (DPC), which also includes the National Research Mentoring Network (NRMN) and the Coordination and Evaluation Center (CEC). The DPC is part of a broad, trans-NIH strategy to address new ways to promote diversity in the biomedical research workforce.

In recent years, BUILD trainees have been in high attendance at the NIGMS-supported Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) Link to external website conference and the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS) Link to external website. These conferences focus on broadening participation in biomedical research and introduce students to groundbreaking scientists.

During the BUILD networking sessions at both meetings, we heard students’ stories about their research and programs. We also had the opportunity to witness an element of students developing scientific identities—trading business cards.

Many BUILD students also made presentations on their research at the 2016 SACNAS and ABRCMS meetings, and eight of them received awards for posters and oral presentations. These awards are based on a variety of criteria, including knowledge of a subject area as well as experimental design. Because the DPC’s BUILD programs introduce undergraduate students to research through hands-on lab experience, it’s great to see that students are sharing their research findings, taking part in poster sessions and being recognized for their efforts.

Students’ interactions during networking sessions and scientific presentations complement another DPC goal: providing role models and mentors to students from a wide variety of backgrounds. Because evaluating program outcomes is integral to the DPC, we are evaluating whether these kinds of interactions help students persist in science careers and develop identities as scientists. It is our hope that what we learn from DPC interventions—such as promoting conference attendance among students—can be scaled to fit a larger audience and benefit students in other training programs.

  • Prehnite
  • Hematite
  • Calcite
  • Calcite
  • Calcite
  • Sulphur
  • Gypsum with Sand
  • Calcite
  • Calcite

Early Career Scientist Shares Her Passion for Basic Research, Mentoring and More

I recently sat down with NIGMS-funded early career scientist Namandjé Bumpus to talk about her research and career path. Questions came from undergraduates across the country, including Thorne Varier in the Building Infrastructure Leading to Diversity program at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. I invite you to watch the archived videocast and share it with students and postdocs in your labs and departments.

The Q&A was part of the Second Annual Early Investigator Lecture for Undergraduate Students. We launched the lecture series last year to highlight the achievements of our early career grantees and encourage students to pursue biomedical research careers.

Namandjé, an associate professor in the department of medicine, division of clinical pharmacology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, started with a scientific presentation that walked us through her research investigating the mechanisms involved in HIV drug activation and metabolism. She also described an exciting new project that involves genotyping people to identify genetic variations that may also influence these processes. Then, during our conversation, she talked about when she knew she wanted to be a scientist (a professional society played a major role), how mentors have supported her along the way, what she would have done differently and why basic research is so important for medical advances. Some other highlights from the lecture are on Twitter (#ecilecture).

Much of what Namandjé shared relates to scientists at any career stage. I hope you and your trainees find the lecture as inspiring as I did.

Namandjé Bumpus on ECI 2017 lecture

During the 2017 NIGMS Director’s Early Career Investigator Lecture, Namandjé Bumpus discussed her research on drug metabolism (left), answered questions about her career path (middle) and met with undergraduate students (right).
Credit: Christa Reynolds and Emily Carlson, NIGMS.