Does your application fit the scientific mission of NIGMS?

Prospective applicants frequently ask us whether their application ideas fit within our mission. NIGMS supports basic research that increases our understanding of biological processes and lays the foundation for advances in disease diagnosis, treatment, and prevention. We also support research in some specific clinical areas that affect multiple organ systems, including anesthesia, sepsis, wound healing, and trauma. In addition, we’re committed to training the next generation of scientists, enhancing the diversity of the scientific workforce, and developing research capacity throughout the country.

Not all applications for fundamental biomedical research projects will ultimately be assigned to NIGMS.  Other NIH institutes and centers (ICs) also have strong commitments to basic research that underlie an understanding of their own particular organ systems, diseases, or treatments. Each NIH IC is different and supports distinct research areas, so it’s wise to seek advice from the program where your science best fits. Before submitting an application to NIGMS, we strongly recommend that you contact the program director whose portfolio most closely matches your area of research.

A project’s fit within NIGMS’ mission is often based on the scientific goal of the studies. For example, if a proposed project utilizes a cell type (e.g., cardiac muscle cells or neurons) as a model to study a basic mechanism such as ion fluxes, it might be appropriate for NIGMS. But if the goal is understanding an organ function or pathophysiology, the research isn’t likely to be within the NIGMS mission. The same logic holds for creating small molecule chemical probes; when the goal advances from using the molecule to explore biological function to developing a therapeutic for a specific disease, the studies then usually fall within the purview of another NIH IC.

For research project grant applications (e.g., R01, R35, R15), an applicant can examine current NIH-funded grants in NIH RePORTER to determine which NIH IC might be the most appropriate. One particularly useful tool is Matchmaker. By inserting an abstract or specific aims, you can see similar projects funded by any of the NIH ICs and identify their program officials. Although program staff can’t guarantee acceptance of an application in advance, they can advise investigators on the likelihood that a project is appropriate. The final decision is made after an application is received, a process that can involve both automated text-based methods and expert assessment.   

Not all NIH ICs participate in every funding opportunity announcement (FOA).  For example, the MIRA (R35) and the Collaborative Program Grant for Multidisciplinary Teams (RM1) FOAs only support research within the NIGMS mission. If your work isn’t within our mission, it’s not a good strategy to try to make it fit so you can apply to our initiative. It’s too much work to prepare an application to risk having it administratively withdrawn. It’s also unlikely that you’ll be doing the best science if you alter your work just to fit into a specific FOA. It’s best to understand the intent of a program, review the requirements in detail, and read the FOA and any associated FAQs carefully before beginning to write an application. 

Finally, if your basic research is a good fit for NIGMS, it’s unnecessary to emphasize possible relevance to a specific disease. If you’re not working in one of our clinical areas, overemphasis on the possibility of eventual relevance to a disorder or treatment can backfire and cause your application to be assigned to a clinically focused IC and study section, rather than to NIGMS and a basic science review group. With limited space in the application, it’s best to focus on the questions your studies will really examine.

NIGMS welcomes applications from any investigator whose research is within our mission, and we’re on the lookout for scientists working in emerging areas that define new directions in fundamental biomedical research. We wish you success in finding your research home at NIH or elsewhere.

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