Q&A with NIGMS-Funded PECASE Winners

Each year, NIH nominates outstanding young scientists for the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government to scientists beginning their independent research careers. The scientists are selected for their innovative research record, potential to continue on this productive route and community service activities. Among this year’s PECASE recipients (nominated in 2014) are two NIGMS grantees, Tufts University’s Aimee Shen Exit icon (who started her career at the University of Vermont) and Montana State University’s Blake Wiedenheft Exit icon (who was the inaugural NIGMS Director’s Early Career Investigator Lecturer). Both scientists launched their labs with support from our Institutional Development Award (IDeA) program, which fosters health-related research and enhances the competitiveness of investigators at institutions in states with historically low levels of NIH funding.

Photo of Blake Wiedenheft (top) and Aimee Shen (bottom).

Below, they answer questions about their research and community service efforts, offer advice to other early career scientists, and share their experiences with the IDeA program.

What is the focus of your research?

Blake Wiedenheft: Viruses that infect bacteria (i.e., bacteriophages) are the most abundant biological entities on earth. The selective pressures imposed by these pervasive predators have a profound impact on the composition and the behavior of microbial communities in every ecological setting. In my lab, we rely on a combination of techniques from bioinformatics, genetics, biochemistry and structural biology to understand the mechanisms that bacteria use to defend themselves from viral infection.

Aimee Shen: My lab studies Clostridium difficile, the leading cause of healthcare-associated infection in the United States. C. difficile forms metabolically dormant cells known as spores that allow the microbe to survive exit from the gastrointestinal tract of a mammalian host. My research is directed at understanding how C. difficile spores form in order to transmit infection and how they germinate and transform into disease-causing cells to initiate infection.

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Funding Opportunity for National Cryo-EM Centers

NIGMS and the National Eye Institute (NEI) are leading a new NIH Common Fund program: Transformative High Resolution Cryo-Electron Microscopy. This initiative will establish national service centers to increase research capacity for molecular structure determination by high resolution cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM). The centers will provide access to state-of-the-art equipment, technical support and cross-training for the production and analysis of high resolution cryo-EM data. An open application process will offer equal-opportunity access to researchers nationwide.

The NIH Common Fund recently issued a funding opportunity announcement for these national centers. The application deadline is June 30, 2017, with optional letters of intent due by May 30. For more information about the cryo-EM centers announcement, please email me. Please also help us get the word out by letting your community know of this opportunity.

MIRA Program Expands Eligibility with New FOA

A new funding opportunity announcement (FOA) for the Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA) program will expand eligibility to include all grantees who have at least one NIGMS R01-equivalent award (R01, R37, DP2 or SC1) due for renewal in the current or next fiscal year. Investigators with two or more NIGMS grants are eligible if at least one of their grants is up for renewal during this time period. The deadline for the first round of applications is May 17, 2017, with the earliest award date of May 2018. There will be two receipt dates in 2018 and 2019: January 17 and May 17.

The advantages of a MIRA for NIGMS grantees are that awards are for five years, provide support for an investigator’s overall program of research within the NIGMS mission, and offer greater funding stability and research flexibility while reducing the administrative burden.

In transitioning from a pilot to an ongoing grant mechanism, we have made some minor changes to the MIRA program. For example, the NIH Center for Scientific Review will review MIRA applications from established investigators. For more details, please read the FOA and the frequently asked questions. We also have posted a simple process to determine 2017 eligibility. I strongly encourage those who intend to apply to discuss their plans with their NIGMS program director.

We’ll hold a webinar to discuss the FOA and answer questions about the program on Tuesday, January 31, from 2-3 p.m. EST. We plan to post the archived webinar and slides on the MIRA webpage after the event.

For additional information, please email me, or call me at 301-594-3827—and watch the Feedback Loop for updates, including an anticipated MIRA FOA for early stage investigators.