Dr. Kristine Willis

About Dr. Kristine Willis

Kris oversees grants in the areas of mutagenesis and the repair of DNA damage. She’s involved in several NIGMS initiatives to promote rigor and reproducibility in biomedical research.

Webinar and Other Resources for New MIRA ESI Funding Opportunity

UPDATE: The slides from the MIRA ESI Funding Opportunity webinar have been posted.

NIGMS recently reissued the funding opportunity announcement (FOA) for the Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA) program for Early Stage Investigators. The first application due date is October 3, 2017. As in previous years, the purpose of this MIRA mechanism is to provide support for the program of research in the laboratory of an early stage investigator (ESI) that falls within the mission of NIGMS. Here are some important points to know if you’re considering applying to this FOA:

  • To be eligible, you must have completed your terminal research degree (or medical residency) less than 10 years ago and must not have served as the principal investigator (PI) of a substantial NIH research award, e.g., an R01, P01, U01, SC1 or DP2. If you’ve served as the PI of one or more smaller awards, such as an R00, R03, R15, R21, SC2 or SC3, you retain your ESI status and can still apply to the ESI MIRA program. A complete list of the smaller grants and awards that do not affect ESI status is available on the Office of Extramural Research webpage.
  • ESI status can be extended for qualifying reasons, including but not limited to family care responsibilities or active military service. Here’s a complete list of qualifying reasons.
  • If you submitted a MIRA application in previous years and are still eligible for this FOA (i.e., retain ESI status), you’re welcome to apply but must submit a new application rather than a resubmission. A new application may still cover the same topics you proposed previously, but must not include any specific section explicitly designated as a response to reviewers.
  • If offered a MIRA, you must devote at least 51% of your time available for research to the award; however, note that taking less than 51% salary for the PI is allowed and in no case should more than 51% be requested.
  • Unlike previous rounds, you may have an NIGMS R01 application and a MIRA application under review at the same time. Should both applications score well enough to be considered for funding, you will be required to withdraw one or the other.
  • Applications that don’t fall within NIGMS’ mission will be returned without review, so be sure to contact me or the program director whose scientific area is closest to yours to discuss your proposal while in the planning stages!

These and many other topics related to the MIRA ESI FOA are covered in detail in a newly-released set of frequently asked questions.

We’ll also be hosting a webinar to discuss the FOA (no longer available) and answer your specific questions about the program on Monday, July 10, from 1:30-2:30 p.m. EDT. The site is compatible with mobile devices. For an audio-only presentation, call 1-888-989-5313 and enter passcode 8866047. We plan to post the archived webinar and slides on the MIRA webpage after the event.

NIH Staff Participating in July 10 Webinar

Jon Lorsch, Institute Director

Kristine Willis, Program Director

Brian Pike, Scientific Review Officer

Lisa Moeller, Grants Management Officer

Small Business Opportunity to Develop Cell Line Identification Tools

Misidentified and contaminated cell lines are believed to be a significant cause of irreproducible and non-generalizable research results. Although this issue has been widely discussed, including on this blog, surveys have shown that many researchers find the costs, time and effort of cell line authentication to be barriers to using it as a routine quality-control measure. There’s a new trans-NIH Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) initiative that aims to reduce these barriers and make cell line authentication affordable and routine.

Along with other parts of NIH, we’re participating in a funding opportunity announcement (FOA) to support SBIR projects focused on developing novel, reliable, rapid and cost-effective tools to assist researchers in confirming the identity and/or sex of the cells that they use in their work. The FOA will also support the development of tools for cases in which there are currently no good methods of identification, such as distinguishing between cells derived from inbred mouse lines. We encourage applications from all eligible organizations. Standard application due dates apply.

If you’re interested in applying and would like more information, you can email me, my NIGMS colleague Zhongzhen Nie or other NIH program staff listed in the FOA. We look forward to receiving your best ideas for developing and commercializing new cell line identification tools.

Nobel Prize Brings More Attention to DNA Repair Research

We’re pleased that two long-time NIGMS grantees have been recognized with the 2015 Nobel Prize in chemistry for their studies of the repair processes that correct damage affecting base pairing or causing a distortion in the helical structure of DNA. This comes on the heels of the 2015 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award, which was also given for discoveries concerning the DNA-damage response.

Paul Modrich and Aziz Sancar, who will share the Nobel Prize with Tomas Lindahl, have received continuous support from us since 1975 and 1982, respectively. By asking questions about basic cellular processes, these scientists have provided a detailed understanding of some of the molecular repair mechanisms involved in health and disease.

Like any groundbreaking research, their studies have raised numerous other important questions. Some of these include: How do cells sense damaged DNA? How are the proteins that repair damaged regions cleared from the DNA after repairs are complete? How can we specifically undermine the DNA repair systems in cancerous cells so that those cells die?

For more details about the Nobel Prize-winning work, see our statement and links to additional material.

NIH Workshop on Reproducibility in Cell Culture Studies

NIGMS is actively involved in NIH-wide efforts to enhance rigor and reproducibility in research. As part of our work on this issue, we will co-host a trans-NIH workshop on September 28-29, 2015, to examine current quality-control challenges in cell culture research and identify opportunities for expanding its capabilities and applications. The meeting will be videocast and archived on the NIH Videocasting site.

The workshop agenda includes panel discussions led by researchers from academia and industry on cell line identification, genetic and phenotypic characterization of cells, heterogeneity in populations of cells, reagents, and research and reporting standards. The meeting will also cover new approaches to understanding the characteristics and behaviors of cultured cells and technologies for enhancing their usefulness in research.

Lasker Award Recognizes Sustained Effort to Understand DNA-Damage Response

We congratulate our long-time grantee Steve Elledge of Brigham and Women’s Hospital on being recognized with the 2015 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award exit icon for “discoveries concerning the DNA-damage response—a fundamental mechanism that protects the genomes of all living organisms.” He shares the honor with Evelyn M. Witkin of Rutgers University.

For a quarter century, we’ve funded Elledge’s investigations of the molecular underpinnings of this fundamental biological process. While working with the yeast model system in the 1990s, his group showed that the Rad53 kinase plays an important role in coordinating DNA repair with progression through the cell cycle.

More recently, Elledge and his team have identified over 1,000 candidate proteins that may participate in the mammalian DNA-damage response. They are now seeking to uncover the precise functions of these proteins.

The Lasker Award is a fitting occasion to reflect on how far we’ve come in this field and the exciting opportunities that lie ahead.

Reproducibility Update: New Resources and Expected Changes to the SF424 Application Guide

I previously told you about the development of an NIGMS clearinghouse site where members of the research community will be able to find grantee-produced training materials designed to teach rigorous experimental design and enhance data reproducibility. Since then, NIH has established two new related sites. The first is a Rigor and Reproducibility web portal that provides general information about NIH efforts and offers resources that include guidelines for how research results should be reported and links to publications written by NIH authors on rigor, reproducibility and transparency.

The second site is focused on grants and funding and includes a summary of NIH’s proposal to clarify its instructions to applicants to emphasize expectations that rigorous experimental design and reproducibility of results should be considered during the application and review process. You may have read about the changes in a recent Rock Talk blog post that announced the publication of two new NIH Guide notices: Enhancing Reproducibility through Rigor and Transparency and Consideration of Sex as a Biological Variable in NIH-funded Research. We anticipate that the new instructions will be released in the fall of 2015 and will take effect for all research grant applications submitted on or after January 25, 2016.

As always, if you have questions or concerns, contact your program director. We’re also interested in hearing how your lab validates key biological and chemical reagents, so tell us about your procedures!

Clearinghouse for Training Modules to Enhance Data Reproducibility

NIH and NIH-funded Training Modules to Enhance Data ReproducibilityAs part of a series of NIH-wide initiatives to enhance rigor and reproducibility in research, we recently launched a Web page that will serve as a clearinghouse for NIH and NIH-funded training modules to enhance data reproducibility. Among other things, the site will house the products of grants we’ll be making over the next few months for training module development, piloting and dissemination.

Currently, the page hosts a series of four training modules developed by the NIH Office of the Director. These modules, which are being incorporated into NIH intramural program training activities, cover some of the important factors that contribute to rigor and reproducibility in the research endeavor, including blinding, selection of exclusion criteria and awareness of bias. The videos and accompanying discussion materials are not meant to provide specific instructions on how to conduct reproducible research, but rather to stimulate conversations among trainees as well as between trainees and their mentors. Graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and early stage investigators are the primary audiences for the training modules.

Also included on the page are links to previously recorded reproducibility workshops held here at NIH that detail the potentials and pitfalls of cutting-edge technologies in cell and structural biology.

Training is an important element of the NIGMS mission and a major focus of NIH’s overall efforts to enhance data reproducibility. In addition to the training modules we’ll be funding, we recently announced the availability of administrative supplements to our T32 training grants to support the development and implementation of curricular activities in this arena.

I hope you find the resources on this site useful, both now and as we add more in the future.