Category: News

Using Social Media

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Twitter and Facebook iconsWe launched the Feedback Loop blog about six months ago. What do you think so far? You can e-mail me or share comments about our post topics, frequency, e-mail alerts, general usefulness, etc. I’d also like your thoughts on how we can create more opportunities for you to join the conversation by posting comments.

This blog was our first foray into the new world of social media. Since then, we’ve launched a Twitter feed Link to external web site and Facebook page Link to external web site to inform the public about NIGMS-funded research advances and our science education materials. NIH is also on Twitter Link to external web site and Facebook Link to external web site with health-related material for the public as well as a separate Twitter feed for funding opportunities Link to external web site.

If you have suggestions for additional ways we could use social or other media tools to keep you informed, please share them with me or on the Feedback Loop.

2009 Chemistry Nobel Prize Recognizes the Determination of the Ribosome’s Three-Dimensional Structure

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We once again received wonderful Nobel news today. We were delighted to learn that three long-time NIGMS grantees–Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, Thomas Steitz and Ada Yonath–will share the 2009 Nobel Prize in chemistry Link to external web site for their “studies of the structure and function of the ribosome.”

Remarkably, at the same 1987 “Evolution of Catalytic Function” Cold Spring Harbor meeting where I first met Carol Greider, I heard Ada Yonath describe her initial attempts to crystallize and determine the structure of the ribosome. Tom Steitz also spoke about his exciting structure determination of DNA polymerase I, and Peter Moore talked about his work on the ribosome using specific deuterium labeling and neutron scattering methods developed in part with Venki Ramakrishnan. The meeting was filled with the promise that we would one day visualize and begin to understand this elaborate RNA-protein machine in atomic detail. More than a decade later, that promise was realized, as recognized by today’s announcement.

The Nobel committee has the daunting challenge of limiting itself to up to three laureates for each prize. Several other long-time NIGMS grantees who also contributed greatly to our understanding of the structure and function of the ribosome include Peter Moore, Harry Noller and Joachim Frank.

Remembering Ruth Kirschstein

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Ruth Kirschstein, M.D.We were all very sad to learn of the death of Ruth Kirschstein, M.D., last evening. She will be deeply missed here at NIGMS, NIH, and beyond.

Dr. Kirschstein was an iconic figure at NIH and in the scientific community. She was the long-time director of NIGMS, serving from 1974 to 1993, and was the first female director of an NIH institute. She also served as acting director of NIH, deputy director of NIH, and in other key positions.

Dr. Kirschstein truly represented the best of NIH—public service, wisdom, and deep knowledge and analysis of important problems. She was so profoundly modest that Congress had to surprise her when they acknowledged her contributions and commitment to research training with the naming of the Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Awards.

I am sure much more will be said and written about her in the future, and we will share this with you in the comments section. I encourage you to post your own thoughts about her as well.

Nobel Prize to Long-Time NIGMS Grantees

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We were delighted to learn this morning that long-time NIGMS grantees Elizabeth Blackburn, Carol Greider and Jack Szostak will share the 2009 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine  Link to external web site for their “discovery of how chromosomes are protected by telomeres and the enzyme telomerase.”

I remember very well the presentation by then-graduate student Carol Greider at the 1987 Cold Spring Harbor Symposium on Quantitative Biology about her purification and initial characterization of telomerase and component RNA. Her passion and enthusiasm for science stood out, even in that high-powered crowd. I also enjoyed working with her when we were colleagues at Johns Hopkins before I came to NIGMS.

The work of Blackburn, Greider and Szostak represents an archetype of curiosity-driven basic research. The fact that DNA synthesis requires a template creates a clear challenge to copying the ends of DNA. The reality of this challenge was clear from Szostak’s studies with linear DNA molecules in yeast. Using a model organism (Tetrahymena) selected for its unusually high abundance of DNA ends, Blackburn’s lab identified telomere sequences and showed, with Szostak, that these sequences did, in fact, stabilize linear DNA molecules in yeast. Blackburn and Greider then set out to detect and purify the enzyme that adds telomeres to DNA.

After their success, they and many other researchers have explored the implications of these observations as they relate to cancer, cellular aging and stem cells. In the years to come, we can expect to see additional implications and broad exploitation of these observations.

Nation’s Top Science Honor Goes to Francis Collins, JoAnne Stubbe, Others

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Yesterday, President Obama announced the 2009 recipients of the National Medal of Science and the National Medal of Technology and Innovation. The nine winners of the National Medal of Science include NIH Director Francis Collins and long-time NIGMS grantee JoAnne Stubbe, a biochemist at MIT. I am delighted that the President recognized these outstanding scientists and innovators for their contributions.

Happy Fifth Birthday, MIDAS

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Five years ago this summer, MIDAS, the Models of Infectious Disease Agent Study, was born. When we began, we knew the effort to develop computational models of disease spread would play a role in preparing for new outbreaks—we just didn’t think it’d be so immediate. First with H5N1 fears and now with the H1N1 pandemic, our researchers have provided computational models to help decisionmakers from all levels of the government plan ways to control flu.

While modeling is just one of many tools used in making policy recommendations, it can help explore different scenarios and outcomes. In the case of flu, MIDAS scientists have used their models to help answer questions like:

  • Can you contain a pandemic locally?
  • What’s the best way to slow the spread of flu while we develop a vaccine?
  • What’s the impact of non-pharmaceutical interventions?
  • Should we distribute antivirals before an outbreak?

As we head into the next five years, we are adding two new centers and three research groups that are pretty exciting. They bring expertise in such areas as MRSA modeling, high-performance computing, statistics, social behavior and visualization tools for non-experts. We’re also going to put a lot more effort into understanding the ecology and evolution of disease, the impact of co-infections, and antibiotic and antiviral resistance.

The two new centers have an additional charge in education and outreach, particularly with public health officials from around the world. I am especially looking forward to this, since there’s such a great need for people with backgrounds in infectious disease epidemiology to also be able to do analytical and computational work.

The thoughtful, careful studies we do through MIDAS require a diverse group of people to communicate with each other every day. One thing I love about the way MIDAS has matured over the years is that we’ve built a level of trust and collaboration. Our researchers freely share data, ideas, and analytical and computational tools.

As we’ve learned, health policy questions emerge and develop almost instantly as new issues arise. Our challenge will continue to be modeling in this real-time context.

Welcoming the New NIH Director

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On Monday, Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., became the 16th director of the National Institutes of Health. He was nominated by President Obama on July 8 and unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate on August 7.

Dr. Collins is well known in the scientific community and is very knowledgeable about NIH at all levels, serving as the director of the National Human Genome Research Institute from 1993-2008 and being a productive intramural investigator. NIH issued a news release with more biographical information.

Screenshot of NIH All-Hands Town Meeting with Dr. Collins

Shortly after being sworn in, Dr. Collins held a town hall meeting with NIH staff. In his remarks, he eloquently outlined his vision and priorities, which include securing stable funding for biomedical research, training the next generation of scientists and nurturing early stage investigators.

I had my first opportunity to work closely with Dr. Collins soon after I came to NIH in 2003. It was in the context of the Molecular Libraries Initiative of the NIH Roadmap for Medical Research, which includes the PubChem database. As a chemist, I was very interested in the initiative’s potential for building new linkages between chemistry and biomedical research.

In these and other interactions, Dr. Collins impressed me with his passion for principles, strategic thinking and careful preparation. I share the sense of excitement and optimism he expressed at the town hall meeting regarding the opportunities that lie ahead.

I encourage you to watch the hour-long video of the town hall event.

What’s Your Recovery Act Story?

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Recovery.gov - NIGMS InformationIf you’ve gotten funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, you know how important it is to tell people in your community that this support is having an impact. We want to hear from you, too. Your stories can help us show the American public how the Recovery Act is working to accelerate research, stimulate the economy, and create or retain jobs.

So please tell us about how this funding has helped you. The impact can be large or small, immediate or long-range. Did you hire a promising new scientist or keep someone from losing a job? Were you able to form new collaborations or purchase critical equipment? Did the Recovery Act help speed your research, enable you to make new discoveries, or advance science in other ways? For training programs, were you able to develop new curricula or other activities that you would not have been able to do otherwise?

We invite you to share your experiences now and in the future using our What’s Your Recovery Act Story? (no longer available)+ Web form. We’ll post a sampling of what you send us on our new Recovery Act Impact Web page. Check out the ones we’ve already posted there to see what your colleagues are saying.

Moving Forward with Stem Cell Research

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New NIH guidelines for human stem cell research became effective on July 7, 2009. We thank those of you who provided comments on the draft policy. The input NIH received was instrumental in developing the final guidelines, which will generate a new registry of human embryonic stem cells (hESC) eligible for use in NIH-funded projects. This registry will be posted at http://grants.nih.gov/stem_cells/registry/current.htm.

Human embryonic stem cells

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NIH has now issued guidance on the status of applications and awards under the new guidelines. I’ve summarized the main points below, but see the notice for other important details.

New and competing applications may be submitted and reviewed. Until eligible hESC lines are listed in the new NIH registry, applicants should not identify a specific line, but should state that they will use line(s) from the registry.

Ongoing awards that use previously approved NIH hESC lines may continue to use these lines for research for the duration of the currently approved award.

Administrative supplements (including Recovery Act ones) may be funded if the supplemental activities use the same hESC lines approved for the parent grant.

Previously reviewed pending applications may now be awarded. However, these awards will be restricted from using funds for hESC research until the hESC lines to be used have been posted on the new registry.

The NIH guidelines and notice represent important steps forward in removing previous barriers to hESC research and advancing this very exciting and significant area of science.

One-Stop Shop for Info on NIH-Funded Research

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Screenshot of NIH Research Portfolio Online Reporting Tool Expenditures and Results (NIH RePORTER)Trying to figure out if your latest idea for a project is already being widely supported by NIH?

Looking for a local collaborator who has the research expertise you need?

Searching for research results on a particular disease or medication?

Want more details about NIH-funded research than you can find in the prepared reports on the NIH RePORT Web site?

RePORTER (RePORT Expenditures and Results) is now ready to help! It replaces the CRISP funded research report tool, which NIH will retire this September after a long and distinguished career.

The new site brings together data from many different sources and lets you search and sort it in new ways. You can still do simple searches by investigator, organization and terms (keywords), but you can also, for example, search just Recovery Act-funded grants or by NIH spending category. The results give you more detailed information about the projects, including funding levels, links to related research papers, resulting patents and other helpful information.

Because you can specify a variety of search terms and topics, you can use RePORTER to generate your own reports.

RePORTER includes information about NIH-supported research at institutions in the United States and throughout the world, as well as NIH intramural research.

Spend a few minutes on the site, and you’ll find it’s easy to use. That said, RePORTER is still very new and growing, so some features—like the “Term Search” field that currently doesn’t support complex, compound queries—will likely improve.

But even as the site moves from version 1.0 beta to full release in the fall, it’s already an incredibly convenient one-stop shopping venue for information about NIH-funded research. Come on by!

If you have comments about RePORTER, use the e-mail link at the bottom of each page to send your feedback.