Dr. Judith Greenberg

About Dr. Judith Greenberg

Judith is the deputy director of NIGMS. In the past, she’s also served as the acting director of the Institute and as the director of the Division of Genetics and Developmental Biology. She led the development of the NIGMS strategic plan issued in 2008 and the development and implementation of the NIGMS strategic plan for training issued in 2011.

Attention NI/ESI MIRA Recipients: This Webinar Is for You.

UPDATE: The video and slides from the from the NI/ESI MIRA webinar have been posted.

If you are a new investigator (NI) or an early stage investigator (ESI) who received a Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA) in 2016 or 2017, you may be wondering how having a MIRA affects your ability to initiate collaborations or apply for other grants. Or, you may be curious how much flexibility you really have to deviate from your original research plans. You may also be thinking a few years ahead about a competing renewal application. Because MIRA is a new grant mechanism, NIGMS will host a webinar designed specifically to address these and other topics of interest to NI/ESI MIRA principal investigators (PIs). NIGMS program, grants management and review staff will be on hand to provide information and answer your questions. We invite NI/ESI MIRA PIs and their business officials to participate.

The webinar (link no longer available) will be held on Tuesday, September 26, from 2:00 to 3:45 p.m. EDT. The site is compatible with mobile devices. Participants will be able to submit questions through the chat function. For an audio-only presentation, call 1-866-815-0443 and enter passcode 3268089. We will post the archived webinar and slides on the MIRA webpage after the event.

NIGMS Staff Participating in the September 26 Webinar

Vernon Anderson, Program Director

Oleg Barski, Program Director

Lisa Dunbar, Scientific Review Officer

Judith Greenberg, Deputy Director

Lisa Moeller, Grants Management Officer

Peter Preusch, Acting Director, Division of Cell Biology and Biophysics

Kristine Willis, Program Director

Five MIRA Myths

Our Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA) program is still relatively new, so it’s not surprising that NIGMS staff frequently hear misconceptions about it. This post dispels five common MIRA myths.

Myth 1: Once an investigator is awarded a MIRA, the budget will never increase.

MIRA budgets may increase. At the time of the competing renewal application, a principal investigator (PI) may request an increase in funding. MIRAs with modest budgets that have been very productive and score very well could receive budget increases. Study sections will be asked to look at budget requests, and NIGMS staff will make determinations based on the reviewers’ recommendations and available funds.

Myth 2: Early stage investigators will receive more funding for their labs if they get an R01 than if they get a MIRA.

A MIRA PI who is an early stage investigator (ESI) has a higher probability of receiving more NIGMS funding than a non-MIRA ESI. Most ESI MIRA investigators receive $250,000 in direct costs per year. A recent analysis found that the vast majority of ESIs who have received an NIGMS R01 are initially awarded $200,000 or less, and most do not go on to receive a second NIGMS R01 during the first five years of their initial award. Thus, the total NIGMS funding for most relatively new investigators is higher with a MIRA.

Myth 3: MIRA discourages collaborative research.

NIGMS strongly endorses collaborative research, and this extends to the MIRA program. However, the MIRA concept is based on the idea that NIGMS will provide support to individual investigators’ research programs. Collaborators are expected to work together because of their mutual interest in a problem. The collaborator, in most cases, will support his or her efforts with independent funding, not through a subcontract from the MIRA. In cases where a collaborator’s efforts are well-justified, essential to the research program of the MIRA and cannot be supported by the collaborator, a consortium agreement can be included in the competing application.

NIGMS also encourages scientifically productive international collaborative research efforts. However, NIGMS will only provide funding for a foreign consortium arrangement when the collaboration is essential to the PI’s research program, represents a unique scientific opportunity and cannot be supported by the collaborator.

Myth 4: MIRA PIs cannot apply for administrative supplements.

MIRA PIs are eligible for Research Supplements to Promote Diversity in Health-Related Research and may be eligible for other types of administrative supplements, such as equipment supplements offered by NIGMS through notices in the NIH Guide for Grants and Contracts. In rare situations, NIGMS may provide a supplement for a piece of equipment that could not have been anticipated at the time the application was submitted.

Myth 5: MIRA PIs cannot apply for NIGMS training grants or conference grants.

MIRA PIs are eligible to apply for grants that support research resources, training, workforce development or diversity building, clinical trials, selected cooperative agreements, SBIR/STTRs, conference grants and the portion of a center grant or a P01 that is strictly a core. In addition, a MIRA PI may receive grants from other NIH institutes or centers, although when making funding decisions NIGMS always considers an investigator’s other support, as described on our Funding Policies page.

More information, including answers to frequently asked questions, is on the MIRA page.

Partnering with Professional Societies

Not long ago, Jon Lorsch and I and several other NIGMS staff met with the leadership of one of the professional societies that represents many of our grantees. It was an opportunity to discuss NIGMS’ policies and grant mechanisms, hear about challenges that investigators face, and share ideas about how the biomedical research and training environment can be improved.

Meetings of this kind are not unusual, but they are just one of the ways we interact with the society partners related to NIGMS’ mission and, through them, communicate with their members. Another way is by attending the societies’ scientific meetings, where our staff learn about the latest research in the field, conduct grantsmanship workshops, and answer questions about the funding process.

The professional societies help us disseminate—and receive—information. For instance, they share our notices about funding opportunities and changes in NIH policies as well as respond to our requests for information. Leadership from the professional societies attend the open sessions of our Advisory Council meetings and sometimes speak during the public comment period, enhancing the exchange of information between the Institute and our constituency.

We also collaborate with professional societies on specific activities. Recent examples include meetings convened by FASEB on rigor and reproducibility Exit icon and by ASBMB on research training. With ASCB, we co-organized the Life: Magnified exhibit, which brought biomedical science to a public place.

We greatly value our interactions with the societies and invite suggestions for additional ways we can partner.

The Feedback Loop As a Resource for Your Grad Students and Postdocs

This blog is one way that we reach out to the scientific community with information about research and research training policies, funding opportunities, analyses, resources, meetings and other useful news. It’s also a key way in which we get your input on our activities and plans.

When I looked back at some recent posts, I was struck by how many of them are relevant to the graduate students and postdocs in your labs. For example, the post describing our plans to modernize graduate education is a must-read for graduate students, whose ideas and perspective will further inform our efforts. The post on talking to NIH staff about your application and grant provides essential information for postdocs who will soon be independent investigators.

Please encourage your students and postdocs to subscribe to the Feedback Loop as well as to send us their suggestions for topics to cover in future posts.

Early Career Investigators to Join Advisory Council Deliberations

Beginning at this month’s meeting of the National Advisory General Medical Sciences Council, some of the ad hoc Council members will be early career investigators. We expect to benefit from their ideas and insights, and we also hope that they will get a better understanding of the workings of Council and share what they learn with peers.

As most of you know, the Advisory Council provides the second level of review required before any grant can be funded. The Council also advises the Institute on policy and scientific matters. Regular Council members are appointed by the HHS Secretary, but for most meetings, we invite ad hoc consultants to expand the Council’s breadth of expertise. Both regular and ad hoc members are typically at fairly senior career levels—often full professors or deans. We think there is value in inviting one or two early career investigators to each Council meeting as ad hocs to provide a greater diversity of views.

We’ve identified a perfect pool to draw from: the Early Career Reviewers who have participated in a study section for NIH’s Center for Scientific Review. If you are interested in applying to this CSR program, see How to Apply.

Change in Receipt Dates for Noncompeting Continuation Institutional Training Grant (T32 and T34) Progress Reports

To increase the efficiency of issuing noncompeting grant awards, we’ve changed the submission date for noncompeting continuation institutional training grant (T32 and T34) progress reports. Beginning with applications for noncompeting awards that will be made in Fiscal Year 2016:

  • Progress reports for all T32 grants will be due on November 15 (rather than on December 1).
  • Progress reports for all T34 grants will be due on October 15 (rather than on November 1).

There is no change in the receipt dates for competing T32 or T34 applications.

New NIGMS Guidelines for Funding Investigators with Substantial Unrestricted Research Support

Jon Lorsch recently posted a message about the responsibility that our grantee community shares with us to help the research enterprise thrive. One way that we have addressed this is by taking a hard look at the funding of investigators who are already well supported. As most of you know, in an effort to increase efficiency and to support as many outstanding scientists as possible, we have long required special advisory council approval  for any grant that, in combination with the principal investigator’s (PI’s) other research support, would provide over $750,000 in direct costs.

We have now developed guidelines that we will use in awarding R01s and other research grants to investigators with substantial levels of long-term, unrestricted research funding from any source. Unrestricted funding means that it is not project-based and may be used to conduct research on a broad topic at the PI’s discretion. We consider such support substantial and long-term if it is over $400,000 in direct costs (excluding the PI’s salary and direct support of widely shared institutional resources) and extends for at least 2 years from the time the NIGMS grant would be funded.

Abiding by these new guidelines will enable us to fund additional labs, increasing the likelihood of making significant scientific advances. The guidelines will take effect for applications submitted on or after January 2, 2016. If you might be affected by the new guidelines, I encourage you to discuss your plans with your program director.

A Look at Our AREA Grants

Academic Research Enhancement Award (AREA, R15) grants support small-scale research projects in the biomedical and behavioral sciences conducted by faculty and students at educational institutions that have not been major recipients of NIH research grant funds. Recently, a faculty member at an AREA grant-eligible institution wrote to NIGMS Director Jon Lorsch urging the Institute to support more AREA grants, arguing that these grants not only train students but are also cost-effective. This prompted us to take a close look at our portfolio of R15 grants. I’d like to share what we found. Thanks to Tony Moore and Ching-Yi Shieh for providing data in the figures.

NIGMS receives the largest number of R15 applications of any NIH institute. This is not surprising, since faculty and students at eligible institutions typically focus on basic research using model organisms and systems. Table 1 shows that the number of AREA grants awarded by NIGMS in each of the last 10 fiscal years has varied from a high of 63 in Fiscal Year 2007 to a low of 36 in Fiscal Year 2010 and that total funding for these grants has ranged from $8.9 million to $18.4 million. As shown in the first figure, NIGMS funds more R15s than any other institute, in recent years between 21% and 29% of the NIH total.

 Fiscal Year Number of Applications Number of
Total Funding
($ in millions)
 2004 128 48 $9,867
 2005 142 49 $10,382
 2006 171 50 $10,602
 2007 200 63 $13,387
 2008 167 53 $11,158
 2009 172 42 $8,903
 2010 199 36 $9,766
 2011 313 62 $18,441
 2012 306 56 $17,925
 2013 304 45 $16,035

Table 1. Number of R15 applications received and awarded by NIGMS and the total funding for R15s in Fiscal Years 2004-2013.

Figure 1. Percentage of NIH R15 dollars awarded by NIGMS. NIGMS (in yellow) has typically supported between 21% and 29% of NIH-funded R15s. The exception was in Fiscal Year 2010, the last year of Recovery Act funding, when the NIH Office of the Director (OD) co-funded a large number of R15s.

The NIGMS success rate for R15s tends to be higher than the overall NIH success rate, although both have been declining steadily over the past 10 years (Figure 2). This decline is due to several factors: an increase in the number of applications, a bump-up in the size of AREA grants in Fiscal Year 2010 from $150,000 to $300,000 in direct costs, and a flat NIH budget. Figure 2 also shows that success rates for R01 grants have been falling as well. While success rates for both NIGMS and NIH R15 grants had usually been higher than those for R01s, in the last several years they have been lower.

Figure 2. Success rates of NIGMS and NIH R15s and R01s in Fiscal Years 2004-2013. Although the NIGMS success rates for both R15s and R01s tend to be higher than the NIH R15 and R01 success rates, all have been declining for the past 10 years. The declines have been greater for R15s than for R01s. In Fiscal Year 2004, 38% of NIGMS R15 applicants were awarded R15s versus 15% in Fiscal Year 2013. The decline in success rate for R15s is due largely to the increase in the number of applications and, since Fiscal Year 2010, to the increased amount of money an applicant can request.

As you can see in Figure 3, over the 10-year period, the funds spent on R15 grants have fluctuated and have made up between about 0.7% and 1.3% of NIGMS’ budget for research project grants (which are largely R01s). Across NIH, AREA grants account for an even smaller amount, about 0.5% last year compared with 1.2% for NIGMS.

Figure 3. Dollars (in thousands) spent by NIGMS for R15s in Fiscal Years 2004-2013 (blue bars, right axis) and the percent of the NIGMS research project grant (RPG) budget that went to R15 grants (green line, left axis).

Does our investment in AREA grants pay off? There are a number of ways to estimate their impact, including quantitative measures such as the number of publications that result from the project, as well as outcomes that are more difficult to measure such as encouraging students to pursue careers in biomedical research and enhancing the educational environment.

While the number of publications per grant is far from a perfect indicator of research productivity, we found that the number of publications attributed to any AREA grant over its entire duration varies tremendously, as shown in Figure 4. Nearly three-fourths of all AREA grantees publish at least one paper, and some produce many publications over the lifetime of their awards. Considering that AREA grantees often have heavy teaching loads and employ undergraduates rather than graduate students and postdocs to assist with the research, these numbers are encouraging.

Figure 4. Number of publications over the duration of NIGMS R15 grants in Fiscal Years 2004-2013.

We hope you will share your AREA grant success stories with us.

Encouraging Model Organism Research

Image of a planerian from the lab of Dr.  Alejandro Sánchez  Alvarado. Nervous system in green and photoreceptors in red. Image credit: Sarah Elliot and Lisandro Maya-RamosA recent article in NIH’s Peer Review Notes illustrated how Alejandro Sánchez Alvarado developed the planarian as a model organism for studying regeneration.

When he applied for his first NIH grant in 1997, Sánchez Alvarado was a new investigator at the Carnegie Institution of Washington who had little preliminary data supporting his proposal. The peer reviewers astutely recognized the promise of his grant application, and they scored it favorably.

NIGMS funded the grant and continues to support Sánchez Alvarado’s studies, now at the Stowers Institute for Medical Research. Since receiving that first grant, Sánchez Alvarado has helped turn planaria into tiny workhorses that have opened new avenues for understanding tissue regeneration and other developmental processes. He has also trained and mentored graduate students and postdocs and served the scientific community as a study section and NIGMS advisory council member.

Sánchez Alvarado’s work is just one example of how NIGMS-funded research on model organisms, including those that are currently considered unconventional, has significantly advanced scientific progress. Think of the protozoan Tetrahymena thermophila and the discovery of telomeres, or the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans and the discovery of RNA interference. The fungus Neurospora crassa has been an important player in understanding the genetics of circadian rhythms, and the bacterium Caulobacter crescentus has led to important insights on the regulation of cell division.

We have long supported research using these and many more model organisms, including mammalian species and other vertebrates, invertebrates, plants, yeast, and additional bacteria. We know that findings made in such systems can translate rapidly—and often unexpectedly—into leaps in conceptual understanding of fundamental life processes, the development of better research tools and approaches, and new strategies for diagnosing and treating diseases. We also know that we can never predict where the next breakthrough will come from—or in which organism. So we continue to encourage applications for projects that use model organisms, including uncommon ones, when these systems offer distinct scientific advantages.

Susan Gregurick Joins NIGMS as Director of Biocomputing and Technology Division

Photo of Susan Gregurick, Ph.D.I’m pleased to introduce you to Susan Gregurick, the new director of our Division of Biomedical Technology, Bioinformatics, and Computational Biology (BBCB).

This is a particularly exciting time for the division, which funds research and training that join biology with the computer sciences, engineering, mathematics and physics. Its activities include supporting research centers in biomedical technology and systems biology as well as computational models of the spread of infectious diseases and the potential effects of interventions. The division also leads the NIH Biomedical Information Science and Technology Initiative and collaborates with the National Science Foundation to support programs in mathematical biology.

A leader in computational biology and bioinformatics with experience in government and academia, Dr. Gregurick brings the expertise and vision needed to help shape this relatively new division and advance its mission. Please join me in welcoming her to NIGMS.