It’s with profoundly mixed emotions that I tell you that Susan Gregurick has been named the NIH associate director for data science and director of the Office of Data Science Strategy. This new position will allow her to play a key role in shaping data science activities across NIH.
Susan has provided extraordinary leadership to our Division of Biophysics, Biomedical Technology, and Computational Biosciences (BBCB) for the past 6 years and has been an essential member of the Institute’s senior staff. I’m confident that she’ll bring the same level of enthusiasm, professionalism, judgment, and keen intellect to her new office as she did here at NIGMS. The appointment becomes official on September 15, although Susan will remain here at NIGMS through the end of the month. Deputy Director Judith Greenberg will serve as acting director of BBCB while we search for a permanent replacement.
I’m pleased to congratulate four members of the NIGMS community who are among the recipients of the 2019 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers . This award is the highest honor bestowed by the United States government to outstanding scientists and engineers who are beginning their independent research careers and who show exceptional promise for leadership in science and technology.
I’m very pleased to announce that two long-time NIGMS grantees are among today’s winners of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry . They include:
Frances H. Arnold, Ph.D., of the California Institute of Technology, “for the directed evolution of enzymes”
George P. Smith, Ph.D., of the University of Missouri, Columbia, who shares the prize with Sir Gregory P. Winter of the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge, U.K., “for the phage display of peptides and antibodies”
We are delighted that three long-time NIGMS grantees have been recognized by the 2018 Lasker Awards . The awards highlight fundamental biological discoveries to draw attention to the importance of public support of science.
Michael Grunstein of the University of California, Los Angeles, and C. David Allis of Rockefeller University, received the 2018 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award for “discoveries elucidating how gene expression is influenced by chemical modifications of histones—the proteins that package DNA within chromosomes.” NIGMS funded Grunstein’s work on the establishment and spreading of silent chromatin from 1977 to 2012. His research led to the generation of the first histone mutations in yeast and the first demonstration that chemical modification of specific ends of histones could turn gene expression on or off. Allis identified and characterized enzymes that add, remove, and read histone modifications. His work led to the hypothesis of a histone code that, when mis-read, can lead to disease. NIGMS has funded Allis since 1988.
Joan Argetsinger Steitz of Yale University received the 2018 Lasker-Koshland Special Achievement Award in Medical Science for “four decades of leadership in biomedical science—exemplified by pioneering discoveries in RNA biology, generous mentorship of budding scientists, and vigorous and passionate support of women in science.” Steitz’s pioneering research helped reveal the function of small pieces of RNA that are not used for making proteins. These molecules, including small nuclear ribonucleoproteins (snRNPs), help regulate gene activity. In doing so, they—like histone modifications—have a major impact on health and disease. NIGMS funded her research from 1975 to 2014. The Lasker-Koshland Award further recognizes Steitz’s long record of mentoring the next generation of scientific leaders and her effective and tireless work as an advocate for women in science.
We congratulate all of the recipients on these well-deserved honors.
A recent analysis by NIGMS staff has uncovered some promising results for women entering academic positions in the biomedical sciences. The study, which published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), found that once men and women receive their first major NIH grant, their funding longevity is similar. The data contradict the common assumption that, across all career stages, women are at a large disadvantage compared to men.
NIGMS Deputy Director Judith H. Greenberg on key findings in the paper.
The results of the analysis should be encouraging for women interested in becoming independent investigators, since the likelihood of sustaining NIH grant support may be better than commonly perceived. You can read the full study, “NIH Funding Longevity by Gender,” in the current edition of PNAS.
The award recognizes outstanding mentors whose efforts encourage the next generation of innovators and help to develop a science and engineering workforce that reflects the diverse talent of our nation, key goals of a number of programs here at NIGMS.
Awardees received a Presidential certificate and a $10,000 grant to continue their mentoring activities at a ceremony in Washington, D.C., last month. Please join me in congratulating all winners of this prestigious honor.
I’m pleased to announce that Ming Lei will join NIGMS later this month as the new director of our Division for Research Capacity Building. Ming is a molecular geneticist with extensive experience overseeing fellowship, career development, and training and education grant programs.Ming is currently deputy director of the Center for Cancer Training and chief of the Cancer Training Branch at the National Cancer Institute, which he joined in 2008 as a program director. His experience before that includes leading the Genes and Genome Cluster in the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences at the National Science Foundation, serving as an associate professor of microbiology at the Medical College of Wisconsin, and working as a research scientist in the Division of Biotechnology at the Monsanto Corporation in St. Louis, Missouri.
Ming’s expertise in managing far-reaching and complex programs, and his ability to effectively engage with scientists and other stakeholders, make him an ideal choice for this key position and a valuable addition to our senior leadership team.
UPDATE: The NIGMS reorganization became official in January 2018. Please see our Overview for more information.
I’d like to make you aware of a proposed reorganization of the Institute’s scientific divisions that we are considering.
Currently, NIGMS has four scientific divisions: Biomedical Technology, Bioinformatics, and Computational Biology (BBCB); Cell Biology and Biophysics (CBB); Genetics and Developmental Biology (GDB); and Pharmacology, Physiology, and Biological Chemistry (PPBC). We would like to shift to a structure in which there are only three scientific divisions: Biophysics, Biomedical Technology, and Computational Biosciences (BBCB); Genetics and Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology (GMCDB); and Pharmacology, Physiology, and Biological Chemistry.
This proposed reorganization does not reflect any change in scientific emphasis or interests by the Institute. Rather, it is an attempt to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our support for fundamental biomedical research, consistent with two goals outlined in our strategic plan [PDF, 702KB]: enhance the effectiveness of our support for fundamental biomedical research and improve the efficiency of our internal operations.
The proposed restructuring also includes establishing the Center for Research Capacity Building as a full division, consistent with its unique place in the Institute. In addition, based on a recommendation from the Steering Committee of the Office of Emergency Care Research (OECR), we plan to transfer the office to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). Because of NINDS’ strong expertise in and support for clinical research related to emergency medicine, it is extremely well-suited to promoting the mission of OECR.
You might wonder what the proposed reorganization will mean for your current or future funding. Our commitment to funding fundamental biomedical research and research capacity building programs remains the same, so the amount of money allocated to these areas will not change as a result of the proposed reorganization. We also expect that most grantees will continue working with their current program directors and grants management specialists.
Soliciting input from the community is among the steps that need to occur before any changes can be implemented. We invite you to share your thoughts on these plans by commenting here or by email. Input will be received through December 4, 2017.
I’m delighted to congratulate four members of the NIGMS community who became Nobel laureates this week. Early this morning, the Nobel Academy announced Joachim Frank, Ph.D., of Columbia University as one of today’s winners of the Nobel Prize in chemistry for the development of cryo-electron microscopy, which simplifies and improves the imaging of biomolecules. On Monday, the Academy recognized current and former NIGMS grantees Jeffrey C. Hall, Ph.D., of the University of Maine; Michael Rosbash, Ph.D., of Brandeis University; and Michael W. Young, Ph.D., of Rockefeller University, with the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for their discoveries of molecular mechanisms controlling the circadian rhythm.
Our Institute has a strong track record of funding scientists who receive Nobel Prizes. Since its creation in 1962, NIGMS has supported the work of 87 Nobel laureates—43 in physiology or medicine and 44 in chemistry. These investigators perform cutting-edge basic research in many different organisms and experimental systems that is the foundation for understanding normal life processes and disease.
The importance of investigator-initiated basic biomedical research, the NIGMS bedrock, was summed up brilliantly during this morning’s Nobel Prize announcement . In response to a reporter asking why most of this week’s Nobel laureates are from the United States, Professor Göran K. Hansson, Secretary General of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, stated:
The United States has … allowed scientists to perform fundamental research to focus on important questions in science; not forcing them to immediate applications, not controlling them in a political way; and that freedom combined with very good resources have been very helpful to the United States.
Dr. Hansson noted that the United States is not alone in its philosophy, also recognizing the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, United Kingdom, and the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, Germany, for providing resources for basic, foundational science “that have turned out to pay off in practical applications later on. …”
When I joined NIGMS about four years ago, I was struck by the number of press releases from journals and grantee institutions that came across my desk each day. Many of them focused on a recently published paper and failed to explain how the work fit into the broader field. Others overstated the research results to make them sound more exciting and closer to clinical application.
The June 22 meeting brought together a diverse group of science communicators [PDF, 22KB] who included early and established investigators, researchers who study science communication, academic and corporate communication officers, policy advisors and journalists. Each panelist represented a stakeholder group with a role in what panelists later called the “hype cycle” and shared his or her perspectives on the problems of hype, the incentives that cause it and recommendations for avoiding it. The meeting focused on basic biomedical research, but the discussions were also relevant to other areas of science.
In her keynote address , veteran science journalist Erika Check Hayden defined hype as “exaggerating the outcomes of research, for whatever motives people have, leading to potential negative effects due to inaccurate portrayal of research.” She credited this definition to Judith Greenberg, our deputy director.
The keynote address by Erika Check Hayden focused on new directions in science communication.
The subsequent discussions highlighted the shared responsibility among all the stakeholder groups for improving science communication and changing the incentives for it. Panelists acknowledged that scientists sometimes oversell the conclusions of studies hoping to get their work published in “better” journals or to improve their chances for obtaining funding; journals may decide on manuscripts to publish based on which ones they think will be cited the most or get press attention; communication officers and journalists are often judged by how many hits their stories get; and universities and research institutes may consider the fundraising potential of scientific news stories.