Headshot of Dr. Joe Gindhart

About Dr. Joe Gindhart

Joe is a cell biologist who manages grants involving cytoskeletal motor proteins, cell motility, intracellular transport, and protein quality control. He also manages Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) training grants.

How the Change of Fiscal Year Affects Your NIGMS Grant

It’s autumn: cool, crisp weather; bright-colored leaves; the beginning of another fiscal year for NIGMS.

The new fiscal year brings with it a special set of circumstances for funding applications, activating fellowships and making changes to existing grants. Some of these circumstances are related to the NIGMS budget, while others are related to NIH policies and regulations.

Here are answers to some questions that applicants and grantees often ask after the September Advisory Council meeting and during the beginning of the new fiscal year, which started on October 1. We hope that telling you what to expect will help you plan accordingly.

September Council’s over. My application did well in review. When is my grant going to get funded?

NIGMS funds a very limited number of R01s in September after the Council meets. Most pending applications are funded after January 1, depending on when NIH gets its budget appropriation from Congress. However, if your renewal application did exceptionally well in review and your current award expires on November 30, we may be able to start the renewal on, or close to, December 1.

Would my grant application be funded more quickly if it went to a different Council round?

Most likely, yes. Applications that go to the January or May Council meetings are typically selected for funding and processed sooner, relative to when Council meets, than applications that go to the September Council meeting. If you want to minimize the receipt-to-award time and you have a choice about when to submit your application, you may want to submit it for the June/July or October/November deadlines, so that it goes to the January or May Council meetings, respectively. Be aware, though, that there is a large volume of awards to be made after January and May Council meetings, which may impact award processing time.

Why can’t I activate my NRSA fellowship in October or early November?

Many NIH institutes and centers, including NIGMS, do not activate fellowships during the first 6 weeks of a new fiscal year so that future-year anniversary dates align with the NIH funding guidelines (i.e., continuation awards typically do not start before December 1).

I’m moving from one institution to another on October 1. Can my grant or fellowship be transferred when I move? I want it to start on the day that I arrive or, if that’s not possible, later in October.

For the same reason as above, a change of grantee institution action cannot be processed from October 1 through mid-November. However, if we receive your change of institution request at least 8 weeks before the desired start date, we may be able to make the transfer date retroactive. Contact your grants management specialist for details.

I’ve applied for a diversity supplement for an individual who’s arriving on October 25. Will the supplement be available on the day that she arrives?

No, since NIH generally begins issuing grant awards after mid-November. If the supplement application is received at least 10 weeks prior to the desired start date, then the supplement could be issued as early as mid-November. Your institution most likely has pre-award cost authority, so you may opt to start spending the supplemental funds on October 25, when the candidate arrives. If you’re considering this option, be sure to confirm with the director of the diversity supplement program that your supplement will be funded, since submission of a diversity supplement application does not guarantee funding. You’ll also want to know when the supplement is likely to start and whether the budget has been cut.

My grant’s anniversary date is December 1. Why are the awards late most years?

Two factors may contribute. One is that program and grants management staff must wait, often until mid-November, to start the process for issuing grant awards until funding guidance and financial systems are in place. Another factor is that NIH may be operating on a short-term continuing resolution (CR) at a reduced budget level in lieu of a full-year appropriation, which may affect the award process.

Why was my continuation budget reduced? Is the likelihood of a budget cut higher if my grant’s anniversary date is in the winter? Will the cut funds ever be restored?

If NIH is operating on a CR, it may have implemented temporary across-the-board budget cuts on noncompeting continuation awards (years 2, 3, etc. of a grant). This is because we must fund conservatively in case of a further CR or an appropriation that is at a lower level. The likelihood of a temporary budget cut is highest in December and January, since the probability that NIH will be on a CR is highest at the beginning of a fiscal year. It’s possible that some or all of the budget reductions will be restored after NIH gets an appropriation. However, it may take several weeks or longer after an appropriation bill is passed and signed for your award to be adjusted.

“Did Council Fund My Grant?”

This is a question we’re often asked shortly after the NIGMS Advisory Council meets in January, May and September. The short answer is: No. Here’s why.

As described in a previous post, our Council provides a second level of peer review of applications assigned to NIGMS. It is not a second study section. Instead, the Council provides oversight to ensure that the initial review for scientific and technical merit conducted by the study section was fair and in compliance with policy.

Each Council member is assigned a set of applications from the most recent round of study sections. He or she reads the summary statements for these applications and considers whether:

  • There was appropriate expertise to review the application.
  • The summary statement comments are substantive, appropriate and consistent with the priority score.
  • The budget is suitable for the proposed work.
  • The project addresses NIGMS programmatic needs.

Most applications pass through this second level of review without specific comment. However, Council members occasionally identify an application that they wish to bring to the attention of program staff. This is usually due to a situation in which the numerical score is better or worse than appears to be justified by the written critique. Applications identified by Council are briefly discussed in a closed session along with applications that regularly receive additional scrutiny, such as program project grants, appeals, applications from foreign institutions, MERIT awards and applications from well-funded investigators.

During each meeting, Council members review more than 1,000 applications. While they do not discuss the vast majority of them, they must vote whether to concur with the study section recommendations. For most applications, this is done en bloc.

Like study sections members, Council members give expert advice about the merit of an application, but they do not make funding decisions. Deliberations about which applications to fund occur at post-Council “paylist” meetings in which groups of NIGMS program staff discuss individual applications. The scientific reviews weigh heavily in the funding decision process, but the staff also consider programmatic priorities, research portfolio balance and other factors.

Once funding decisions have been made, it takes at least 2 to 3 weeks for a paylist to be generated and approved. At that point your program director will be able to tell you whether your application will be funded and if so, what the budget and term will be. If you have questions about the status of your application, your program director is the best source of information.

High-Resolution Excitement at the 25th AIDS-Related Structural Biology Meeting

HIV Poster. Image copyright David S. Goodsell, RCSB PDB, www.pdb.org

Image copyright David S. Goodsell, RCSB PDB, www.pdb.org

An exceptional array of structural biologists, cell biologists, virologists and other researchers gathered at NIH late last month to discuss achievements, applications and future directions in AIDS-related structural biology. The group was attending the 25th Annual Meeting of the Groups Studying the Structures of AIDS-Related Systems and Their Application to Targeted Drug Design.

I was extraordinarily impressed by the quality of the science, the passion with which it was presented and the interactive culture of the community.

The meeting began with a keynote address by Steve Harrison of Harvard Medical School. He provided valuable historical perspective and then outlined major challenges facing the field. Two days later, the event concluded with a provocative talk by Manuel Navia of Oxford Bioscience Partners about the economics of bringing new lead compounds through the drug development pipeline.

In between were sessions on the HIV life cycle, HIV host-pathogen interactions, imaging, latency, viral host recognition and structure-based drug design and resistance. There were also lively poster sessions showcasing more than 70 projects.

Approximately 2.8% of the NIGMS budget supports research related to AIDS, which includes individual grants, program projects, centers and institutional training grants.

A major focus of our current AIDS-related structural biology efforts is three P50 Centers for the Determination of Structures of HIV/Host Complexes. With cofunding from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, we support the Center for HIV Protein Interactions Exit icon at the University of Pittsburgh; the Center for the Structural Biology of Cellular Host Elements in Egress, Trafficking, and Assembly of HIV Exit icon at the University of Utah; and the HIV Accessory and Regulatory Complexes Exit icon Center at the University of California, San Francisco. These centers use a comprehensive, collaborative approach that engages the larger biological community involved in HIV-cell complex research.

Because the funding initiative for the P50 centers expires next year, we solicited feedback on the program from meeting attendees. We also asked them about emerging scientific opportunities in the field and the best way to move forward. We welcome your input on these topics, too. We’ll talk more about future of NIGMS AIDS-related funding opportunity announcements at the May 2011 meeting of the National Advisory General Medical Sciences Council.

Although many scientific questions remain, the 25th anniversary meeting underscored how basic research on the structure of HIV-1 and interacting host proteins has significantly increased our understanding of virus biology and informed structure-based therapeutic approaches.

Register for 25th Annual NIGMS AIDS-Related Structural Biology Meeting

X-ray structure of hexameric HIV-1 CA (PDB entry 3H47)

Registration is now open for the 25th Annual Meeting of the Groups Studying the Structures of AIDS-Related Systems and Their Application to Targeted Drug Design. The meeting will take place March 28-30, 2011, on the NIH campus in Bethesda.

Plenary sessions will cover the HIV life cycle, host-pathogen interactions, imaging, latency, viral host recognition and structure-based drug design and resistance. The first two days will also include afternoon poster sessions and breakout discussion groups on the future of NIGMS AIDS research initiatives.

Principal investigators, postdoctoral fellows and students are welcome to attend. The meeting is free and open to the public, but advance registration is required. If you’d like to submit a poster presentation, please check the speaker box on the meeting registration page and e-mail me.

The focus of NIGMS-supported HIV studies has evolved from determining the structures of AIDS-related proteins and developing structure-based drug design techniques to identifying mechanisms of drug resistance and host proteins related to the HIV life cycle.

During this special anniversary meeting, the community will have an opportunity to reflect on past accomplishments, describe current advances and develop ideas for future NIGMS AIDS-related funding opportunities. Please visit the meeting Web site for more details about the agenda and confirmed speakers.

We hope to see you in March!

Cell Biology Celebration

The American Society for Cell Biology 50th Annual MeetingCell biologists, including many of our funded investigators and a few of us from NIGMS, were in a celebratory mood as the 50th Annual Meeting of the American Society for Cell Biology Exit icon kicked off December 11 at the Philadelphia Convention Center. The keynote symposium began with Gary Borisy’s description of the first ASCB meeting, when Hans Ris described his then-heretical finding that chloroplasts contain DNA. For more details about the genesis and early years of the ASCB, check out John Fleishman’s article, A Place of Our Own, in the December 2010 ASCB Newsletter Exit icon.

An exciting addition to this year’s meeting was the science discussion table format. Eminent researchers sat at tables for an hour at the beginning of each poster session and took questions from relative newcomers to the field. I stopped by to say hello to some of the NIGMS-supported investigators in my grant portfolio, but each table was crowded with graduate students and postdocs eager to discuss science and seek advice from their fields’ leaders. Two thoughts came to mind as I watched the scene unfold: I wish that there had been these tables when I was a young scientist, and I hope this format becomes a regular feature of the ASCB meeting.

While science is the major focus of the ASCB meeting, education, mentoring and career development also are important features. A number of education workshops focused on topics such as pedagogy, science literacy and online teaching resources. Women in Cell Biology-sponsored events focused on careers, mentoring and managing life as a scientist. In addition, NIH program and review staff answered questions about the grant process. I was one of them, and my favorite part was talking to postdocs and investigators I know from phone calls and e-mail exchanges.

I saw a number of outstanding talks and posters at the meeting, and to say that there is not enough room here to mention them all is an understatement. I was particularly intrigued by presentations from Ron Vale’s lab at University of California, San Francisco, on the cytoplasmic dynein motor domain at 6 Å resolution and from Tom Schwarz at Harvard Medical School on identifying a role for Parkinson’s disease-associated proteins in the regulation of mitochondrial transport within axons. As someone interested in intracellular transport, both presentations offered answers to long-standing problems in cell biology and provided a launching pad for testing new ideas about how organelles move to specific cellular destinations.

I’m already looking forward to the 2011 meeting in Denver.

ASCB Meeting: It’s an Exciting Time for Cell Biology

ASCB ProgramLast week, the American Society for Cell Biology held its 49th annual meeting Exit icon in San Diego. There were thousands of attendees, including many of our funded investigators as well as a few of us from NIGMS. As a new program director, I enjoyed meeting many of the grantees and applicants I’ve talked to on the phone or by e-mail. I met a few others, too, who stopped by the NIGMS booth to get information on funding opportunities.

I can’t even begin to come up with an exhaustive list of all highlights from the 5-day program, so I will share just a few.

I was most excited about how discoveries made using “simple” organisms, such as yeast and unicellular algae, are informing models of human disease in new ways. For example, studies of centriole biogenesis and cilia formation in invertebrates have provided a mechanistic understanding of human ciliopathic disorders such as Bardet-Biedl syndrome. Interestingly, the relationship between human disorders and basic research is a two-way street: By doing a genetic analysis of plant and invertebrate orthologs of genes mutated in people with Bardet-Biedl syndrome, researchers have identified an evolutionarily conserved ciliogenesis “toolkit.”

In his keynote symposium talk, Dr. Rudolf Jaenisch presented another way to think about model systems. He discussed the potential of deriving induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells from patients, causing the cells to differentiate into a certain type or organ system, and then using the differentiated cells to test for patient-specific drug interventions or gene therapy treatments. There are still scientific and technical challenges, such as recreating the progression of disease development and pathology in a culture dish, but I think that using iPS cells to model human disease may revolutionize our understanding of the cellular basis of disease and, in turn, help us learn more about how normal cells work.

The meeting also stressed the importance of science outreach. During a plenary lecture about the role of NIH in supporting basic research, especially in cell biology, NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins also talked about the role of scientists in educating various groups on the intrinsic value and economic impact of scientific research. Dr. Lawrence S. B. Goldstein echoed this sentiment during his acceptance speech for the ASCB Public Service Award by describing how even small efforts, such as explaining the potential of stem cell research to your neighbor, can have a cumulative impact.

I left knowing that this is definitely an exciting time to be a cell biologist, and I’m already looking forward to the 2010 meeting in Philadelphia.