Watch Our 50th Anniversary Scientific Symposium Online

DeWitt Stetten, Jr. 50th Anniversary Symposium poster.

We’re looking forward to a very special event this week—a symposium on the NIH campus marking our 50th anniversary. If you can’t join us in person, you can watch the talks online.

The event is on Wednesday, October 17, from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m. Eastern time. NIH Director Francis Collins will lead things off by sharing his perspective on the Institute and the research it funds. Next will be talks by three NIGMS grantees—Carlos Bustamante, Kathy Giacomini and Tim Mitchison—who reflect the range of our support as well as the theme of our anniversary: “investigate, innovate, inspire.”

You can watch the event live or later.

Nobel Prizes Recognize NIGMS Grantee, Research Areas

Crystal structure of the β2-adrenergic receptor-Gs protein complex.We learned this morning that Brian K. Kobilka of Stanford University School of Medicine, whose research is supported by NIGMS and other parts of NIH, will share the 2012 Nobel Prize in chemistry with Robert J. Lefkowitz of Duke University Medical School, a long-time grantee of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. They are being recognized “for studies of G-protein-coupled receptors.”

Their seminal work, primarily involving the β-adrenergic receptor, has widened understanding of how these biologically and medically important proteins operate. It has also contributed to an expanding library of related structures, which have been notoriously difficult to obtain. And it complements the ongoing efforts of many other researchers, including those funded through a variety of special NIH activities, among them the NIH Common Fund Structural Biology Program, which NIGMS helps administer.

Dr. Kobilka’s “molecular masterpiece,” the high-resolution structure of the β2-adrenergic receptor attached to its G protein partner, was published just last year. We’re proud that our funding contributed to this achievement.

We also congratulate the 2012 Nobel laureates in physiology or medicine, Sir John B. Gurdon of the Gurdon Institute and Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University and the Gladstone Institutes. They’re honored “for the discovery that mature cells can be reprogrammed to become pluripotent.” Their advances have propelled this area of stem cell research forward and have opened up many new avenues of investigation that are being pursued by NIGMS grantees.

We are delighted that these prizes, which were awarded during our 50th anniversary year, offer a further testament to the importance and value of basic research. We look forward to continuing to support basic studies that form the foundation for new and better ways to treat and prevent disease and improve health.

End of Fiscal Year 2012 Summary

At the 150th meeting of our Advisory Council last week, I presented several budget slides that I’d like to share with you. They summarize funding allocations for this fiscal year, which ends on September 30.

Figure 1 shows the $2.429 billion Fiscal Year 2012 NIGMS budget by major component. The biggest portion is for research project grants (RPGs), most of which are R01s. Due to the transfer of programs—predominantly center grants—from the former National Center for Research Resources (NCRR) partway through the fiscal year, the RPG budget as a percentage of the total is less than the estimate I provided earlier, while the centers percentage is greater. About 74%, or just over $1 billion, of the RPG budget goes to fund noncompeting grant commitments and about 25%, or $349 million, is used to fund competing grants.

Figure 1. Breakdown of the Fiscal Year 2012 NIGMS budget into its major components.

Figure 1. Breakdown of the Fiscal Year 2012 NIGMS budget into its major components. About 58% of the budget supports research project grants (RPGs), and of that, 74% is used to pay noncompeting grants, 25% to pay competing grants and 1% to pay supplements.

Below is a closer look at the competing RPGs. It shows that 94%, or about $330 million, is used to pay investigator-initiated research and that the remaining 6%, or about $19 million, funds mainly R01 grants submitted in response to requests for applications (RFAs). At last week’s meeting, the Advisory Council approved one new RFA and the reissue of several other RFAs for funding consideration in Fiscal Year 2014.

Figure 2. Breakdown of the Fiscal Year 2012 competing RPG budget.

Figure 2. Breakdown of the Fiscal Year 2012 competing RPG budget. About 94% of the budget is used to pay investigator-initiated research and the remainder funds mainly R01 grants submitted in response to requests for applications (RFAs).

Another snapshot (Figure 3) shows a historical view of the RPG budget and number of RPGs compared to the total NIGMS budget. The increase in the total budget in Fiscal Year 2012 is due to the addition of NCRR programs. The decline in the number of RPGs is due to increasing grant costs.

Figure 3. RPG budget and number of grants compared to the total budget for Fiscal Years 1998-2012.

Figure 3. RPG budget and number of grants compared to the total budget for Fiscal Years 1998-2012.

As we estimated earlier in the year, the Fiscal Year 2012 success rate is around 24%.

We will provide information on the Fiscal Year 2013 budget when it’s available.

Honoring Basic Research

Especially because it’s our anniversary year, I’m very pleased that basic biomedical research supported by NIGMS is receiving important recognition.

The 2012 Lasker Awards Exit icon honor five scientists whose research we have supported for decades:

  • The Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award is shared by Michael Sheetz of Columbia University, James Spudich of Stanford University School of Medicine and Ronald Vale of the University of California, San Francisco, for their advances in the detailed study of cytoskeletal motor proteins.
  • The Lasker-Koshland Award for Special Achievement in Medical Science is shared by Donald D. Brown of the Carnegie Institution for Science and Tom Maniatis of Columbia University for advancing the study of genes as well as for their support of the scientific enterprise. I should also note that Dr. Brown was among the first speakers in our annual DeWitt Stetten, Jr., lecture series, which we established in 1982 to mark our 20th anniversary.

Since the first Lasker Award was presented in 1946, 81 recipients have gone on to receive Nobel Prizes for their scientific accomplishments.

New Resource for Individual Development Plans

Our Strategic Plan for Biomedical and Behavioral Research Training stresses the importance of creating an individual development plan (IDP) for every graduate student and postdoctoral scholar, not just those supported on formal training grants.

The plan’s implementation blueprint addresses this action item, and we’ve since posted more information and links to sample IDPs.

The latest addition to this IDP page is a new tool developed by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology and the American Association for the Advancement of Science called myIDP Exit icon. The tool makes it easy for grad students and postdocs to examine their scientific skills, interests and values; identify scientific career paths that best match their skills and interests; and set goals for the coming year. The site also links to articles for early career scientists to use as they plan their future.

I encourage mentors and mentees alike to check out this great new resource.

NIGMS to House New, Trans-NIH Office of Emergency Care Research

Many NIH components, including NIGMS, support research and training relevant to care in the emergency medical setting. To facilitate and coordinate its activities in this area, NIH has created an Office of Emergency Care Research (OECR) that is housed in NIGMS.

Although OECR will not fund grants, it will serve as a focal point for basic, clinical and translational emergency care research and training across NIH. The office’s activities will include:

  • Coordinating funding opportunities that involve multiple NIH institutes and centers.
  • Working closely with the NIH Emergency Care Research Working Group, which includes representatives from many NIH institutes and centers.
  • Organizing scientific meetings to identify new research and training opportunities in emergency settings.
  • Catalyzing the development of new funding opportunities.
  • Informing investigators about funding opportunities in their areas of interest.
  • Fostering career development for trainees in emergency care research.
  • Representing NIH in government-wide efforts to improve the nation’s emergency care system.

OECR’s creation is a culmination of more than 5 years of discussions between NIH and the emergency medicine community. The initial impetus for these conversations was three Institute of Medicine reports on emergency care in 2006.

While a search is being conducted for a permanent director, OECR is being led on an acting basis by Walter J. Koroshetz, M.D., deputy director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Assisting him is Alice M. Mascette, M.D., senior clinical science advisor in the Division of Cardiovascular Sciences of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

You can learn more about OECR at http://www.nigms.nih.gov/About/Overview/OECR/.

Workforce Development and Diversity Recommendations to NIH Resonate with NIGMS Training Strategic Plan

Last week, the Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD) of NIH released two reports that are very relevant to the NIGMS missions of supporting research training and promoting a diverse biomedical workforce. The reports, produced by working groups with impressive membership rosters, have many elements in common with our training strategic plan.

For example, the report from the Biomedical Research Workforce Working Group suggests that institutions provide graduate students with experiences to better prepare them for various career options, recommends testing ways to shorten the Ph.D. training period, and calls for individual development plans for postdocs regardless of the NIH grant mechanism that supports them.

The report from the Working Group on Diversity in the Biomedical Research Workforce affirms the importance of a diverse biomedical workforce and NIH’s role in helping to achieve it.

NIH’s Sally Rockey, who co-chaired one of the working groups, has a blog post on these ACD reports, plus an additional report on large biomedical research datasets.

We look forward to working with other parts of NIH to advance our shared commitment to training and diversity.

Continuing Our Commitment to Research Project Grants

Last September, I posted our funding allocation for research project grants (RPGs) in Fiscal Year 2012. I noted our strong commitment to RPGs—the vast majority of which are investigator-initiated R01 grants—and showed that we expected to spend 67% of our budget on them.

I want to update you on our Fiscal Year 2012 budget, which now includes programs transferred from the former National Center for Research Resources (NCRR), and offer some historical perspective on our RPG funding.

Figure 1 shows the amount NIGMS spent on RPGs compared to the total budget from 1998 to the present. From 2003 through 2011, the total RPG budget increased nearly every year, but not at a pace sufficient to maintain the same number of grants. Nevertheless, we expect to fund 184 more RPGs in Fiscal Year 2012 than we did in Fiscal Year 1998.

RPGs as a Proportion of the NIGMS Budget
Fiscal Years 1998-2012

Figure 1. Comparison of research project grant (RPG) budgets in Fiscal Years 1998-2012, compared to the total NIGMS budget.
View larger image
Figure 1. Comparison of research project grant (RPG) budgets in Fiscal Years 1998-2012, compared to the total NIGMS budget.

The increase in the total budget for Fiscal Year 2012 reflects the transferred NCRR programs, many of which are centers. During the 1998-2003 budget doubling period, the proportion of centers rose from 0.6% to 8.6% and remained at about 8% through Fiscal Year 2011. These centers enabled NIGMS to address important scientific opportunities and enhance the basic science infrastructure.

Following the transfer of the NCRR programs, 58% of our budget will support RPGs and 20% will support centers, as shown in Figure 2. Despite the percentage shift, the amount of money spent on RPGs is comparable to that in recent fiscal years, and maintaining RPGs and investigator-initiated R01s will remain our focus.

Figure 2. Fiscal Year 2012 breakdown of the NIGMS budget into its major components. About 58% of the budget will support RPGs and about 20% will support centers.

Guidance for Implementing NIGMS’ Training Strategic Plan

Strategic Plan for Biomedical and Behavioral Research TrainingEarlier this year, we issued a Blueprint for Implementation of our Strategic Plan for Biomedical and Behavioral Research Training. Since then, we’ve developed guidance to help the academic community implement the plan. This includes several short documents on the topics below:

All the links above are available on our Optimizing the Research Training Partnership page, which also includes links to these two statements of NIGMS principles:

As always, we welcome your input and comments—on these particular documents as well as on research training in general. We particularly encourage you to share suggestions based on your own training experiences. Send your comments to me or post a comment on the Feedback Loop to share them with other readers.

Director Search to Resume

Chris Kaiser, who had been selected as the NIGMS director, withdrew his candidacy on April 23 for personal reasons, so a new search for a permanent NIGMS director will need to be initiated. I will continue to serve as acting NIGMS director during this process. When a vacancy announcement for the position is available, we’ll share it with you. In the meantime, you can read a post about the previous search process.