Headshot of NIGMS Director Dr. Jon Lorsch

About Dr. Jon Lorsch

As NIGMS director, Jon oversees the Institute’s research, training and other programs. He’s committed to engaging the scientific community on a wide range of topics, including funding policies and trends, research evaluation, and workforce development and diversity.

Rochelle Long to Lead Pharmacology, Physiology, and Biological Chemistry Division

Dr. Rochelle LongI’m very pleased to announce the selection of Rochelle Long as director of our Division of Pharmacology, Physiology, and Biological Chemistry (PPBC). Rochelle is a pharmacologist who has played leading roles in fostering research in pharmacogenomics through national and international collaborations.

She established and oversees the trans-NIH Pharmacogenomics Research Network and has catalyzed associated partnerships, such as the Global Alliance for Pharmacogenomics and the Clinical Pharmacogenetics Implementation Consortium.

Rochelle has worked in PPBC since 1990, starting as a program director and rising to become chief of its Pharmacological and Physiological Sciences Branch in 1998. She has served as acting division director since Mike Rogers’ retirement in May 2015.

Rochelle’s plans include building bridges across scientific disciplines, working to strengthen emerging fields and promoting cross-disciplinary research. These are goals across the Institute—they are reflected in our strategic plan—and they’re particularly relevant for a broad-ranging division like PPBC.

Since I’ve had the opportunity to interact with her for several years, I know how skilled Rochelle is at organizing, motivating and generating cohesion among groups of people. These qualities will serve her well as PPBC director and as a member of the NIGMS senior leadership team.

For more about Rochelle, see our news announcement.

Sharing Our Passion for Science

NIGMS Director Dr. Jon R. Lorsch explains a protein letter computer activity to a young participant at the USA Science and Engineering FestivalA few weeks ago, 23 NIGMS volunteers and I spent an amazing day with thousands of highly engaged kids, their parents and other science enthusiasts of all ages at the Washington, DC, Convention Center. We were participating in the USA Science & Engineering Festival, the largest STEM event in the nation.

The NIGMS booth was a big hit! Our theme was Cell-e-bration of Science,
with activities that included spelling names with protein letters and a
“selfie station” with science-related props.Festival participants at the NIGMS selfie station holding science themed props in front of a colorful backdrop of a cell

Getting young people interested in science is essential to building a vibrant and innovative research enterprise. The Science & Engineering Festival, with more than 365,000 participants, gave us a chance to share our passion for science with thousands of young people. Hopefully, some of the kids we met are now thinking about careers as scientists.

NIGMS staff volunteer demonstrating how the protein letter computer activity worksI encourage you to share your own enthusiasm for science with young people whenever you have the opportunity. Whether you judge a science fair, speak at a career day or have students visit your lab, you put a human face on science and help students see it as an exciting, fulfilling and worthy career choice.

 

New Early Career Investigator Lecture for Undergraduate Students

Blake WiedenheftI’m very pleased to announce a new annual lecture to highlight the achievements of some of NIGMS’ early career grantees.

The first NIGMS Director’s Early Career Investigator Lecture will be given by Blake Wiedenheft, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Montana State University who does research on the CRISPR gene-editing system. His talk, “Bacteria, Their Viruses, and How They Taught Us to Perform Genome Surgery,” will take place on Wednesday, April 13 from 2:00-3:00 p.m. EDT on the NIH campus. The lecture will be videocast and archived on the NIH Videocasting site.

Although open to everyone in the scientific community, this and future talks in the series will be geared toward undergraduate students. After describing their research, speakers will discuss their career paths during a 30-minute question-and-answer session.

We’re hopeful that these lectures will help inform participants about cutting-edge areas of science and inspire them to pursue biomedical research careers. I encourage you to tell your students about this opportunity to ask Blake career-related questions. They can send their questions by email to Jilliene Drayton before Monday, April 11, or tweet them with the hashtag #ecilecture.

Editor’s Note: An archived video of the lecture, including the question-and-answer session, is on the NIH Videocasting and Podcasting site.

Application and Funding Trends

The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016 Exit icon, provides funding for the Federal Government through September 30. NIGMS has a Fiscal Year 2016 appropriation of $2.512 billion, which is $140 million, or 5.9%, higher than it was in Fiscal Year 2015. With this opportunity to expand NIGMS support for fundamental biomedical research comes a responsibility to make carefully considered investments with taxpayer funds.

Application Trends

One of the most commonly cited metrics when discussing grants is success rate, calculated as the number of applications funded divided by the number of applications received. As shown in Figure 1, the success rate for NIGMS research project grants (RPGs) increased from 24.8% in Fiscal Year 2014 to 29.6% in Fiscal Year 2015. This was due to an increase in the number of funded competing RPGs as well as a decline in the number of competing RPG applications. In contrast, in Fiscal Year 2013, applications increased while awards decreased, leading to a notable decrease in success rate. Overall, we have seen a decrease in RPG applications over the last 2 years, a trend warranting additional investigation.

Figure 1. Number of NIGMS Competing RPG Applications, Funded Competing RPGs and Success Rates for RPGs, Fiscal Years 2004-2015. NIGMS RPG applications (blue circles, dashed line; left axis) decreased from Fiscal Years 2014 to 2015 to a 5-year low. Meanwhile, NIGMS-funded RPGs (green squares, solid line; left axis) increased in Fiscal Year 2015 to a level not seen since Fiscal Year 2007. As a result, the NIGMS RPG success rate (gray triangles, dotted line; right axis) was the second highest it has been in the past decade.
Figure 1. Number of NIGMS Competing RPG Applications, Funded Competing RPGs and Success Rates for RPGs, Fiscal Years 2004-2015. NIGMS RPG applications (blue circles, dashed line; left axis) decreased from Fiscal Years 2014 to 2015 to a 5-year low. Meanwhile, NIGMS-funded RPGs (green squares, solid line; left axis) increased in Fiscal Year 2015 to a level not seen since Fiscal Year 2007. As a result, the NIGMS RPG success rate (gray triangles, dotted line; right axis) was the second highest it has been in the past decade.

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MIRA Status and Future Plans

Now that we have completed the review process for Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA) applications from the first eligible cohort of established investigators, I would like to update you on the program’s status and plans for its future. I shared this information with our Advisory Council at its recent meeting in January.

Screenshot of video

My update on the MIRA program at the January 2016 Advisory Council meeting begins at 26:06.

The first funding opportunity announcement (FOA) we issued (RFA-GM-16-002) was for established investigators who had either two NIGMS R01s or one NIGMS R01 for more than $400,000 in direct costs. In either case, one grant had to be expiring in 2016 or 2017. Out of the 710 investigators who could have met these criteria, 179 submitted applications, corresponding to 25% of the eligible pool.

Among the eligible investigators, 80% were male and 20% were female. This ratio was unchanged among those who applied, as were the percentages across racial and ethnic groups (Figure 1). Thus, although the demographics of the group of investigators that was eligible for this first FOA were skewed in several ways, the skewing was not exacerbated in those who chose to apply. Continue reading

Dorit Zuk to Direct Genetics and Developmental Biology Division

Dorit Zuk, Ph.D.I’m very pleased to announce that Dorit Zuk will be joining us in early 2016 as the new director of our Division of Genetics and Developmental Biology (GDB). Dorit is a molecular biologist whose research has focused on muscle development and RNA metabolism. She also has a strong background in science policy and communications.

Dorit is currently director of the Office of Policy, Communications and Strategic Alliances at NIH’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences. Previously, she was the science policy advisor to the NIH deputy director for extramural research. And prior to serving in these and other government positions, she worked in scientific publishing as the deputy editor of Cell and then the editor of Molecular Cell.

Her expertise in genetics, developmental biology and other scientific fields; knowledge of policy areas ranging from financial conflicts of interest to the future of the biomedical research workforce; and ability to engage effectively with scientists and other stakeholders make Dorit an ideal choice for this key position and a valuable addition to our senior leadership team.

Please join me in welcoming her to NIGMS.

For more about Dorit, see our news announcement.

Catalyzing the Modernization of Graduate Education

A major overhaul of how we educate graduate students in biomedical research is long overdue.

Science has changed dramatically over the past three decades. The amount of information available about biological systems has grown exponentially. New methods allow us to examine the inner workings of cells with unprecedented resolution and to generate expansive datasets describing the expression of every mRNA or metabolite in a system. Biomedical research is becoming increasingly interdisciplinary and collaborative, and the questions we seek to answer are more and more complex. Finally, as the scientific enterprise has expanded, Ph.D.s have pursued increasingly diverse careers in the research and development, education and related sectors.

Despite these major changes, we educate Ph.D. students in biomedical research in essentially the same way as we did 25 or more years ago. As Alan Leshner put it in a recent editorial Exit icon in Science magazine, “It is time for the scientific and education communities to take a more fundamental look at how graduate education in science is structured and consider, given the current environment, whether a major reconfiguration of the entire system is needed.”

Problems related to the reproducibility and rigor of scientific studies Exit icon are likely driven in part by the inadequacies of an outdated system for educating our trainees. When nearly any student can sequence hundreds of millions of bases of DNA in a few days, does it make sense that all of our students are not given a significant amount of training in quantitative and computational analyses? And as we delve into more complex biological systems, shouldn’t students be receiving in-depth training in rigorous experimental design and data interpretation before they embark on their thesis work?

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Comment on Proposed Framework for NIH-Wide Strategic Plan

NIH is currently gathering input from the scientific community, including stakeholder organizations, on the proposed framework for its 5-year strategic plan. Responses are due by August 16, 2015.

We’ve been asked to share this message from NIH Principal Deputy Director Larry Tabak about the call for comments and suggestions:

In order to advance the NIH mission, the NIH is developing an NIH-wide Strategic Plan. The goal of this 5-year plan is to outline a vision for biomedical research that ultimately extends healthy life and reduces illness and disability. NIH senior leadership and staff have developed a proposed framework for the Strategic Plan that identifies areas of opportunity across all biomedicine and unifying principles to guide NIH’s support of the biomedical research enterprise. The aim is to pursue crosscutting areas of research that span NIH’s 27 Institutes, Centers, and Offices.

I invite you to review the framework in our Request for Information and on the NIH website, and to provide your feedback via the RFI submission site. I encourage stakeholder organizations (e.g., patient advocacy groups, professional societies) to submit a single response reflective of the views of the organization/membership as a whole. We also will be hosting webinars to gather additional input. These webinars will be held in early to mid-August.

Your input is vital to ensuring that the NIH Strategic Plan positions biomedical research on a promising and visionary path. I appreciate your time and consideration in assisting us with this effort.

The webinars Exit icon mentioned in Larry’s message are scheduled for August 5, 11 and 13.

Alison Gammie to Lead Training, Workforce Development, and Diversity Division

Alison Gammie, Ph.D.I’m very pleased to announce that Alison Gammie will be joining us in the late summer as the new director of our Division of Training, Workforce Development, and Diversity (TWD). She’s currently a senior lecturer in molecular biology at Princeton as well as an innovator and leader in teaching, mentoring, diversity-building and recruitment programs there. Through collaborations and other approaches, she has also contributed in many ways to improving undergraduate STEM training on a national level.

Alison has a strong record of recognizing needs, identifying gaps and developing successful strategies to address and overcome these challenges.

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Establishment of Our Center for Research Capacity Building

I am pleased to announce that we have established a new Center for Research Capacity Building (CRCB). It will serve as the hub for our capacity-building programs, which include the Institutional Development Award (IDeA), Support of Competitive Research (SCORE) and Native American Research Centers for Health (NARCH).

We appreciate the comments we received in response to our requests for public input on the proposed organizational change. They reflected strong support for creating the center.

The new center’s activities are focused in states that historically have not received significant levels of NIH research funding and at institutions that have a historical mission focused on serving students from underrepresented groups.

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