The Importance of Your Input

This is the 500th Feedback Loop post. We’ve made numerous changes since the blog launched in 2009, but one of the things that’s stayed the same is the importance of your input. Your responses to our posts have given us valuable information and insights on our policies and plans. They’ve also helped us identify topics that interest you or that we could clarify.

If there’s a topic you’d like us to write about—or if you have any other feedback for us—please leave your suggestions in the comment section below or email me.

Request for Input on the Science Drivers Requiring Capable Exascale High-Performance Computing

UPDATE: The response deadline has been extended to November 13.

On July 29, 2015, the White House issued an Executive Order establishing the National Strategic Computing Initiative as a government-wide effort to create a coordinated, cohesive, multi-agency strategy to maximize the benefits of High Performance Computing (HPC) for the United States. In support of this initiative, the Department of Energy, National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health are seeking your input to identify scientific research that would benefit from a greatly enhanced new generation of HPC computing technologies and architectures. The request for information (RFI) asks for responses in scientific domains including the biomedical and physical sciences, mathematics, geosciences, energy sciences and engineering research.

We hope to hear from our research communities on topics that include:

    • Research challenges that would need the projected 100-fold increase in application performance.
    • Specific barriers in current HPC systems that limit scientific research.
    • Capabilities needed for the data-intensive sciences.
    • Additional barriers in such areas as training, workforce development or collaborative environments.

While this RFI invites comments on several specific topics, we would also welcome any comments that you feel are relevant to this initiative.

To respond to this RFI, send an email to NIGMS_exascale@nigms.nih.gov by October 16.

If you have any specific questions about the RFI, please let me know.

Comment on Proposed Rules for Protection of Human Subjects

UPDATE: The proposed rulemaking comment period has been extended to January 6, 2016.

I would like to draw your attention to proposed revisions to the federal policy for the protection of human subjects exit icon, often referred to as the Common Rule. Even if you’re not currently involved in human subjects research activities, your research might be affected by the proposed changes.

The modifications are intended to enhance the ability of individuals to make informed decisions about participating in clinical research and also to modernize and streamline the regulatory approval process. One of the major reforms would expand the definition of human subjects research to include the secondary use of human biospecimens, regardless of identifiability. Some of the other proposed changes would affect the processes for obtaining informed consent and for determining the exemption status of human subjects research activities.

I encourage you to review the notice of proposed rulemaking and submit comments by the December 7, 2015, deadline. Please note that each proposed change described in the document includes specific questions for public comment.

Comment on Proposed Framework for NIH-Wide Strategic Plan

NIH is currently gathering input from the scientific community, including stakeholder organizations, on the proposed framework for its 5-year strategic plan. Responses are due by August 16, 2015.

We’ve been asked to share this message from NIH Principal Deputy Director Larry Tabak about the call for comments and suggestions:

In order to advance the NIH mission, the NIH is developing an NIH-wide Strategic Plan. The goal of this 5-year plan is to outline a vision for biomedical research that ultimately extends healthy life and reduces illness and disability. NIH senior leadership and staff have developed a proposed framework for the Strategic Plan that identifies areas of opportunity across all biomedicine and unifying principles to guide NIH’s support of the biomedical research enterprise. The aim is to pursue crosscutting areas of research that span NIH’s 27 Institutes, Centers, and Offices.

I invite you to review the framework in our Request for Information and on the NIH website, and to provide your feedback via the RFI submission site. I encourage stakeholder organizations (e.g., patient advocacy groups, professional societies) to submit a single response reflective of the views of the organization/membership as a whole. We also will be hosting webinars to gather additional input. These webinars will be held in early to mid-August.

Your input is vital to ensuring that the NIH Strategic Plan positions biomedical research on a promising and visionary path. I appreciate your time and consideration in assisting us with this effort.

The webinars Exit icon mentioned in Larry’s message are scheduled for August 5, 11 and 13.

Requesting Input on the Support of Biomedical Technology Development

NIGMS is in the process of considering how best to support two important activities: the development of biomedical technologies and access to those technologies as they become research resources. These topics are strongly related, but there are aspects of each that should be explored independently. An important part of this process is getting input from the community, so we’ve issued a request for information (RFI) focused on technology development. A subsequent RFI will extend the discussion to the support of research resources.

There are two main issues that we’re thinking hard about right now as we consider how our technology development programs should be structured:

  • The relationship between technology development and question-based biomedical research. We’re particularly interested in whether and how technology development and question-driven research should be coupled in different circumstances. Coupling technology development with addressing biomedical research problems can help ensure the relevance of the tools that emerge, but it may not always be necessary or appropriate.
  • Supporting the full range of biomedical technology development. We’re interested in the effective support of all aspects of technology development, from the exploration of emerging concepts to the conversion of fragile technologies into standard tools.

Continue reading

Comment on the Need for Support of Membrane Protein Structure Determination

Membrane proteins and large macromolecular assemblies are important targets for understanding cell function and for drug discovery, but their characterization presents unique technical challenges. We’re considering how best to help researchers meet these challenges.

To give the biomedical research community the opportunity to offer comments on this topic, we have just issued a request for information (RFI). We want your opinion on the most effective methods for the determination of membrane protein and large macromolecular assembly structures and/or the need for new tools to aid in structure determination of these proteins or protein complexes.

Continue reading

Comment on Potential New Resources for Protein Expression

We support a variety of resources for biomedical research, and we’re considering a new addition: one or more facilities for protein expression. These resources would offer protein expression expertise and high-throughput expression capability for the benefit of the entire research community.

We just issued a request for information (RFI) seeking input on the needs within the biomedical research community for such resources and the types of protein expression services that would be most beneficial. Examples might include the expression of proteins from a large number of sequences, orthologs and homologs; prokaryotic and eukaryotic protein expression; and expression for special needs, such as for large numbers of mutants, proteins requiring anaerobic expression, and the incorporation of nonproteogenic amino acids like seleno-methionine.

Continue reading

Give Input on Strategies for Optimizing the Impact and Sustainability of Biomedical Research

An important, recurring discussion topic on our blogs is ways to maximize the impact and sustainability of NIH-funded biomedical research. In 2011, a Rock Talk post on managing NIH’s budget in fiscally challenging times solicited many comments and led, in part, to an NIH-wide policy on special council review for applications from PIs who have more than $1 million in NIH funding. We have also implemented new programs that provide more stable support for investigators over longer time periods. A more recent example of the “maximizing impact and sustainability” theme is an NIGMS Feedback Loop post that discussed ideas for how to optimize the biomedical research ecosystem.

We’re each leading an NIH-wide working group focused on topics key to this important theme. One group (chaired by Sally) is exploring ways to decrease the time it takes investigators to reach research independence, and the other (chaired by Jon) is looking to develop more efficient and sustainable funding policies and other strategies.

Recently, NIH solicited your comments on an “emeritus award” concept as part of activities of the group chaired by Sally. The group is now in the midst of analyzing all of the comments it received to see what the next steps will be in regard to this type of award.

To inform the efforts of Jon’s group, NIH has just issued a new request for information (RFI) seeking your:

  • Input on key issues that currently limit the impact of NIH’s funding for biomedical research and challenge the sustainability of the scientific enterprise.
  • Ideas about adjusting current funding policies to ensure both continued impact and sustainability of the NIH research enterprise.
  • Ideas for new policies, strategies and other approaches that would increase the impact and sustainability of NIH-funded biomedical research.
  • Comments on any other issues that you feel are relevant.

While we read and consider comments responding to our blog posts, in order to make your input part of our formal analysis of RFI responses, it needs to be submitted via the RFI by May 17.

Give Input on NIGMS Undergraduate Student Development Programs to Enhance Diversity in the Biomedical Research Workforce

As part of our longstanding commitment to fostering a highly trained and diverse biomedical research workforce, we have launched a review process to ensure that our programs contribute most effectively to this goal. An important part of this effort is to seek your input.

To this end, we just issued a request for information for feedback and novel ideas that might bolster the effectiveness of our undergraduate student development programs. Some of the things we’re particularly interested in are:

  • The advantages (or disadvantages) of supporting a single program per institution that begins after matriculation and provides student development experiences through graduation.
  • Approaches to leveraging successful institutional models for preparing baccalaureates for subsequent Ph.D. completion.
  • Strategies to build institutional capabilities and effective institutional networks that promote undergraduate student training programs that lead to successful Ph.D. completion.
  • If applicable, your specific experiences with any of our student development programs and their outcomes in preparing participants for biomedical research careers.

More broadly, we welcome your suggestions regarding the most important issues we can address in this arena.

I encourage you to share your views (no longer available) on these and associated topics by the response deadline of April 15, 2015.

MIRA Program Launches with First FOA

We have just issued the first funding opportunity announcement (FOA) in the pilot of our new Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA) program. The development of this program was greatly informed by responses to our request for information, which I summarized in a previous Feedback Loop post.

The goal of this FOA is to test the MIRA concept under well-controlled conditions with a small group of investigators. We’re initially targeting established investigators who have received two or more R01-equivalent awards or a single award of $400,000 or more in direct costs from NIGMS in Fiscal Year 2013 or 2014, and who have at least one grant expected to end in Fiscal Year 2016 or 2017. We think that this approach will help these investigators transition smoothly from their current grants to MIRA support. In the future, we plan to issue MIRA FOAs for additional groups of investigators, and if the pilot is successful we will open the program to any investigator working on research questions related to the mission of NIGMS.

If you’re eligible for this FOA and on the fence about applying, consider that MIRA awards:

  • Will be for 5 years instead of the current NIGMS average of 4 years,
  • Will continue support for other research currently funded by NIGMS without requiring a separate renewal application,
  • Will provide flexibility to pursue new ideas and opportunities as they arise,
  • Will increase funding stability, and
  • Will reduce time spent managing multiple grant awards and writing grant applications.

We’ll post additional information, including answers to frequently asked questions, on the NIGMS MIRA Web page.

NOTE: The FOA lists the earliest award date as December 2016. This is an error. The earliest award date is actually April 2016.