Proposed Reorganization of NIGMS Scientific Divisions


UPDATE: The NIGMS reorganization became official in January 2018. Please see our Overview for more information. 

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.

8 Replies to “Proposed Reorganization of NIGMS Scientific Divisions”

  1. I like all the offices in the same building. I like the restructuring of departments and having them in one building makes it easier for any futher restructuring. Collaboration could also be facillitated, between departments when grant requests could overlap departments. Please install the necessary security, to protect yourselves.

  2. If you are attempting to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of basic research support, as you say you are, by the reorganization you describe, that is commendable. But what is really needed is a complete re-organization of the peer review panel system paying special attention
    to how broad an area each panel has to cover, how panel members are chosen, how long and
    how often they should serve, and how long panel administrators should serve in their positions.

  3. Thank you for asking feed-back. I am very concerned about the separation of cell biology from biophysics, which goes against the growing convergence between these two disciplines. Modern cell biology is quantitative and highly mechanistic, and thus heavily relies on biophysical methods. Additionally, methodology to analyze cell structure and function at molecular and submolecular resolution (for example Cryo-EM, single molecule studies) requires biophysical techniques. Pre-eminent cell biology institutions are those where this convergence between biophysics and cell biology has occurred. Separating cell biology from biophysics would be a major step-back.

    1. The biophysics branch in the new BBCB would continue to work closely with the cell biology branch in the new GMCDB. We certainly agree that there are important overlaps in interests and approaches between the fields of biophysics and cell biology. However, cell biology is also closely connected to both genetics and molecular biology, and developmental biology has many important overlaps with cell biology. Because the fields that constitute biomedical research can be viewed as a continuum, there are no perfect break-points, but we feel that this new arrangement would improve the efficiency of our internal operations and allow us to better support the whole spectrum of research relevant to the Institute’s mission. As stated in the post, the proposed reorganization does not reflect a change in NIGMS’ scientific interests or priorities.

  4. This makes sense in many ways. As a cell biologist who uses genetic tools to study embryonic development, I would now have a more natural home instead of two. Do let folks keep their program officers, however, That body of expertise is essential.

    1. Thanks for your feedback. We intend for program officers and grants management specialists to remain the same in most cases. Re-assignments, if any, would be made only to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our support for basic research.

  5. I was director of BBCB (which was earlier CBCB) for 5 years, from 2007-2012. Bringing the biophysics into BBCB makes total sense. We spent a long time wrestling with having that discipline in a separate division. I don’t know the details of this proposal, but on the face of it, I would just say it’s been a long time coming. Thanks.

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