NIGMS Welcomes NCRR Programs, Staff and Grantees

About a year ago, NIH proposed creating a National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) that would incorporate the Clinical and Translational Science Awards program of the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR). NIH decided to transfer the remaining NCRR programs to other NIH components, with the Institutional Development Award (IDeA) and some Biomedical Technology programs slated to go to NIGMS.

The recent passage of an appropriation for Fiscal Year 2012 allows these plans to be implemented. A number of NCRR staff members will move to NIGMS, including many who have been associated with the IDeA and Biomedical Technology programs. The staff who administer and review these programs will continue to do so, and the resources allocated to the programs will not change as a result of the organizational adjustments.

We have a long history of working with NCRR, and we value and respect its staff and programs, which are also held in high regard by the scientific community. We welcome the infusion of new colleagues, new talents and ideas, and new research areas from NCRR. We also look forward to working with the new institutions, investigators and stakeholder groups associated with the NCRR programs.

As we move forward, we want to continue to engage and learn from the scientific community, and we welcome and value your input and feedback.

Back by Popular Demand: Workshop for Transitioning Postdocs

We’re holding our second two-day workshop for postdoctoral fellows who soon will transition to their first independent positions. It will take place on the NIH campus in Bethesda, MD, March 12-13, 2012. All eligible postdocs may apply, but we especially encourage applications from members of groups that are underrepresented in the biomedical or behavioral sciences.

The workshop, organized with the assistance of FASEB, covers a broad range of topics to help postdocs navigate the transition process, including applying for a position, negotiating an offer, establishing a lab, finding mentors and collaborators, getting a grant and balancing research with other commitments. NIH Director Francis Collins will deliver the keynote address.

We received a lot of positive feedback on our 2010 workshop. Just last week, I met an attendee who told me that she had recently moved into her first independent position and that attending the workshop had helped her get the job.

If you know of postdocs who would benefit from our career development event, please encourage them to visit the registration page for details about eligibility, travel reimbursement and application materials, which are due by November 30. Note that participants must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents.

Webinar on Transformative Research Awards, Managing Science in Fiscally Challenging Times

Extramural NexusI want to highlight two items from the monthly digest of postings from NIH’s Office of Extramural Research.

On November 8 from 1:00 to 2:45 p.m. Eastern time, NIH will host a webinar on a new high-risk, high-reward program, the NIH Director’s Transformative Research Awards. It’ll provide an overview of the program and details about the application process. You can access the webinar at https://webmeeting.nih.gov/hrhr. Submit questions in advance or during the program by e-mailing Transformative_Awards@mail.nih.gov or by calling 1-800-593-9895, passcode 10699.

You may have already read the post from OER Director Sally Rockey on managing science in fiscally challenging times or tried out NIH’s interactive data graphs. The post has generated more than 175 comments, including this one from our former director Jeremy Berg that discusses NIGMS’ approach:

I think it is a very good idea to make these data and the interactive slides available to the scientific community. However, some key points deserve clarification. On slide 2, it is stated that the current way of managing is to “bottom out success rates (doing nothing but letting the system correct itself)”. I do not think that this correctly represents the situation. As Director of NIGMS for 7 1/2 years, we used a number of the degrees of freedom shown in the slides to manage success rates. For example, awards sizes were often reduced below the requested amount to increase the number of new and competing awards that could be made. We realized that these reductions had implications for the funded investigators, but in periods of constrained appropriations, these were deemed to be less problematic than further decreases in the number of awards that could be made. In addition, NIGMS has had a long-standing policy of scrutinizing potential awards to well-funded laboratories, defined as laboratories hav[ing] annual direct costs from all sources of over $750,000. Note that this is not a cap, but rather a process involving program staff and the advisory council to ensure that such potential awards are carefully considered with respect to alternative awards to less well-funded laboratories. Thus, some of the approaches described have already been utilized. Furthermore, we have attempted to analyze scientific output in the context of these policies. Some trends are indicated but there are, of course, many challenges to measuring scientific output in a meaningful way. Furthermore, as one might anticipate, there are large variations at any given level of support. NIH and the scientific community need to work together to use the available data to develop policies that can best sustain the biomedical research enterprise in the long run.

For additional details, see the NIGMS funding policies page.

Marking Our Golden Anniversary

NIGMS 50th Anniversary Logo

NIGMS turns 50 in 2012! To mark this important milestone, we’re planning a variety of activities throughout the year, including sessions at scientific society meetings and a symposium on the NIH campus on October 17, 2012. We’re also planning a special page on the NIGMS Web site where you can share your perspectives on the Institute and its role.

We invite you to describe how NIGMS has had an impact on your research or institution, or how it has made a difference in your field. We also welcome your memories or reflections on other relevant topics. The length and format (text, audio, video, image) are up to you. Text can be entered on the NIGMS 50th Anniversary Personal Reflections page or you may send text or other materials to info@nigms.nih.gov.

We’ll compile the submissions and post an assortment of them on our Web site in early 2012. While there is no specific deadline, we’d like to receive as many contributions as possible by the end of 2011.

Finally, as a way of sharing our anniversary with the broader scientific community, you may wish to use our 50th anniversary logo (link no longer available) during 2012 on posters and other materials about NIGMS-funded research.

Chris A. Kaiser Selected as NIGMS Director

Photo of Chris Kaiser, Ph.D.NIH Director Francis Collins today announced his selection of Chris A. Kaiser as the new director of NIGMS. Dr. Kaiser expects to begin his appointment here in the spring of 2012. We are delighted by this news, and we appreciate the efforts of the NIH search committee in identifying and vetting candidates for the position.

A leading cell biologist, Dr. Kaiser has been head of the Department of Biology at MIT since 2004. He joined the MIT faculty in 1991 and became a full professor in 2002.

Dr. Kaiser is not new to the NIGMS community—he has been an NIGMS grantee since 1992 and has served on several NIH review committees. His research uses yeast to study the basic mechanisms of protein folding and intracellular transport, particularly how secreted and other proteins form disulfide bonds. He started this work as a graduate student at MIT in David Botstein’s lab, then expanded on it during a postdoctoral fellowship with Randy Schekman at the University of California, Berkeley. He plans to continue his research at NIH.

In the NIH news release on his selection, Dr. Kaiser said, “In taking this position, I feel a compelling call to duty for national service and to be an advocate for the basic research enterprise.”

We welcome his leadership and vision, and we very much look forward to working with him.

Continuing Resolution and Noncompeting Research Grant Award Levels

A continuing resolution enacted on October 4, 2011, extends NIH’s operations through November 18, 2011, at the Fiscal Year 2011 level minus 1.5%.

During this period, NIH will make noncompeting research grant awards at reduced levels, typically up to 90% of the previously committed level. This approach is consistent with our practice during continuing resolutions in other years. NIH will consider upward adjustments to awarded levels once Fiscal Year 2012 appropriations are enacted.

Nobel Prize and Other Honors

Bruce BeutlerWe are pleased that Bruce Beutler, who has been an NIGMS grantee since 2000, is a recipient of this year’s Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine Exit icon. He was cited for “discoveries concerning the activation of innate immunity.” We congratulate him on this great honor.

Beutler has been at the Scripps Research Institute since 2000 but is moving back to the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, which is where he worked when he discovered the receptor for endotoxin in 1998.

While we did not support him at that time, we began funding him shortly thereafter to further explore this seminal discovery. Our first grant to him was titled “TLR4 as an LPS Sensor and Susceptibility Locus,” and our second was titled “Mutagenic Analysis of LPS Responses.” The latter grant, which is still active, was awarded as an R01 in 2003 and converted to an R37 (MERIT Award) in 2008.

With this support, Beutler pioneered the use of a novel mutagenesis process in model systems to characterize several key intermediates in the Toll-like receptor signaling pathway of the innate immune response. These and other advances have formed a molecular framework for a deeper understanding of innate immunity, which is essential for normal host defense but which can also go awry, causing chronic inflammatory diseases and sepsis.

Today’s Nobel news comes on the heels of last week’s announcement that the National Medal of Science Exit icon will go to two of our grantees, Jackie Barton of Caltech and Peter Stang of the University of Utah.

And at the other end of the career spectrum, NIGMS grantee Sara Sawyer of the University of Texas at Austin is among the 20 NIH-funded scientists who were just selected for the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. This award is the nation’s highest honor for scientists at the beginning of their professional careers.

We congratulate these grantees on their notable recognitions.

Funding Allocation for Research Project Grants in Fiscal Year 2012

In this 200th Feedback Loop post, I’d like to share budget slides I presented earlier this month during the open session of our National Advisory General Medical Sciences Council meeting. The session also included updates on several of our initiatives as well concept clearances for two new ones, which are briefly described in the meeting summary.

As part of my acting director’s report, I presented our Fiscal Year 2012 funding plan and focused specifically on our budget for research project grants (RPGs), which includes mostly R01s. The figures below are based on a budget estimate for Fiscal Year 2012, which begins on October 1. Since NIH has not yet received an appropriation for the next fiscal year, the estimate assumes that the budget will be at approximately the Fiscal Year 2011 level.

Figure 1 breaks down the total NIGMS budget of about $2.034 billion into its major components and shows that 67% of the budget will support RPGs. Of that portion, we will use around 76% to pay noncompeting grants (commitments on grants already awarded). This leaves about 23% for competing grants and 1% for supplements.

Figure 1. Fiscal Year 2012 Breakdown

Figure 1. Fiscal Year 2012 breakdown of the estimated NIGMS budget into its major components. About 67% of the budget will support research project grants (RPGs), and of that, 76% will be used to pay noncompeting grants, 23% to pay competing grants and 1% to pay supplements.

Figure 2 breaks down the competing RPG budget. It shows that 93% will be used to pay investigator-initiated research and that the remaining 7% will fund mainly R01 grants submitted in response to requests for applications (RFAs), which have been carefully considered by NIGMS staff in consultation with the scientific community and have been approved by our Advisory Council during the concept clearance process.

Figure 2: NIGMS FY 2012 Breakdown of Estimated Competing RPG Budget

Figure 2. Fiscal Year 2012 breakdown of the estimated competing RPG budget. About 93% of the budget will be used to pay investigator-initiated research, and the remainder will fund R01 grants submitted in response to RFAs.

The final figure shows that the portion of the competing RPG budget spent on investigator-initiated research during the last 8 years has varied between 87% and 94%, further indicating that NIGMS commits a relatively small amount of RPG funds to grants that are not investigator-initiated.

Figure 3. Comparison of RPG Budgets in Fiscal Years 2004-2011

Figure 3. Comparison of RPG budgets in Fiscal Years 2004-2011 for investigator-initiated research versus set-asides for grants in response to specific RFAs. During this period, the portion spent on investigator-initiated research has varied between 87% and 94%.

Lasker Award Highlights Protein Folding Discoveries

Crystal structure of the asymmetric GroEL-GroES-(ADP)7 chaperonin complex (PDB ID: 1aon).The Lasker Awards recognize major contributions to understanding and treating, curing or preventing disease. The 2011 prizes were announced yesterday, and we’re proud that two former NIGMS grantees, Franz-Ulrich Hartl of the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry and Arthur L. Horwich of the Yale School of Medicine, are being honored with the Basic Medical Research Award Exit icon.

Hartl and Horwich are cited for their discoveries about the cell’s protein-folding machinery, particularly the identification of chaperonin, which shifted the paradigm of how proteins fold. The field of protein folding is a great example of the importance of the basic research that NIGMS funds and how it lays the foundation for medical advances—in this case, shedding light on diseases linked to misfolding or aggregation, such as Alzheimer’s and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

We’re also delighted that the NIH Clinical Center was selected to receive the Lasker-Bloomberg Public Service Award Exit icon.

We congratulate all of the recipients on these well-deserved honors.

Nominate Outstanding Mentors for Presidential Awards

Mentoring is a core value at NIGMS, and we emphasize it in our training, career development and other programs. Among the mentoring activities we encourage in our Strategic Plan for Biomedical and Behavioral Research Training are the use of individual development plans and the adoption of evidence-based practices to grow trainees’ career skills.

Another reflection of the importance of mentoring—the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring—recognizes outstanding efforts that enhance the participation and retention of those who might not otherwise have pursued careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. A number of scientists and programs we fund have been recognized with past national mentoring awards, including three earlier this year.

You now have the opportunity to nominate a great mentor (including yourself) or organization for outstanding and sustained efforts at the K-12, undergraduate or graduate level over at least 5 years. Nominations are due by October 5. See the program solicitation for details Exit icon.