How do I know if my work fits in the mission of NIGMS?


Ninety percent of the applications to our Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award for Early Stage Investigators (known as the ESI MIRA program) that were submitted in October are about to undergo peer review. The remaining 10% were administratively withdrawn, mostly because the research proposed fell outside the NIGMS mission. This is comparable to the proportion that was withdrawn over the past 3 years.

Withdrawn applications represent a lot of wasted time and effort on the part of affected PIs and are the source of considerable frustration. So what can you do to minimize the chance of this happening to your ESI MIRA application in the future?

When considering an ESI MIRA application—or any new grant applicationalways email an NIGMS program officer as early as possible to discuss your proposed work. You can email the scientific/research contacts listed in the MIRA funding opportunity announcement (see the names at the very end) who will refer you to the most appropriate NIGMS program officer, or you can directly find the contact for the most relevant scientific area by going to our Contacts by Research Area page.

You can also use the matchmaker tool in RePORTER to find out whom to contact. However, be aware that using this tool for your own assessment of whether your work fits into the NIGMS scope can be misleading. For example, if the phrase “transcription factor” appears many times in an application, the algorithm will indicate relevance to NIGMS even if it really is outside of our mission. It doesn’t always discern that the application is proposing to study the function of transcription factors in, say, kidney disease, something that isn’t in the NIGMS mission but is of interest to another NIH institute or center (IC). While using RePORTER, you can also take note of other ICs that fund related work and identify the names of their relevant program officers.

It’s important to understand that although NIGMS supports basic biomedical research, we do not support all basic research that comes to NIH. Every other NIH IC also funds basic research related to its particular mission areas. Here are three examples to illustrate this point.

  1. Microbiome: NIGMS’ interest in the microbiome includes mechanistic understanding of the ecology of the microbiome—specifically, the mechanisms that microbes use to interact, communicate, expand, and stabilize their environment. The focus of the research should be on the microbiota and not the host or organ system. Research on virulence mechanisms and pathogenicity of microbes or on understanding the host immune response and defenses are not within the NIGMS mission and are more appropriate for other ICs.
  2. Immunology: NIGMS funds research to understand general concepts in immunology relevant to its clinical areas (critical illness, injury, wound healing, sepsis), while other ICs support studies directly relevant to the diagnosis or treatment of infectious and allergic diseases within their missions.
  3. Neurodevelopment: NIGMS’ support of neurodevelopment ends at the initial morphogenesis of the neural tube. NIGMS does not support studies on subsequent patterning of the neural tube into brain and spinal cord-specific regions. It also does not support neuron-level neurodevelopment research such as neuronal type specification.
    In addition to early neurodevelopment, NIGMS’ support for neuroscience research is limited to studies of circadian biology, the genetics of behavior, and general anesthesia and peri-operative pain, as well as studies of the structure and mechanism of macromolecules relevant to neural function such as channels and receptors. Most basic neuroscience research is funded by the neuroscience-focused ICs rather than by NIGMS.

As you can see from these examples, the question of whether your ESI MIRA application falls within the NIGMS mission is complex and nuanced. Of course, the final determination is made when NIGMS receives your application and we have the opportunity to assess the complete application. However, you can save yourself a lot of unnecessary time and effort by contacting an NIGMS program officer with a description of your research as early as possible.

3 Replies to “How do I know if my work fits in the mission of NIGMS?”

  1. How long after submission are applicants notified that their applications have been withdrawn from further consideration?

    1. Before any ESI MIRA application is withdrawn because the research falls outside the NIGMS mission, it receives careful consideration through multiple levels of review by program staff and senior NIGMS leadership. This process, together with the regular processing of applications at NIH, takes about a month to 6 weeks.

  2. Many thanks for this highly informative document.

    When should I expect a response to my inquiry?
    What if my project fits more than one program in NIGMS?

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