Although researchers have made major progress in achieving a balance between male and female subjects in human studies—women now account for roughly half of the participants in NIH-funded clinical trials—a similar pattern has not been seen in pre-clinical research involving animals and cells. To inform the development of policies that address this issue, NIH has issued a request for information (RFI) on the consideration of sex as a biological variable in biomedical research.
As NIH Deputy Director for Extramural Research Sally Rockey wrote in a recent blog post announcing the RFI, “Sex is a critical variable when trying to understand the biological and behavioral systems that fundamentally shape human health.” Appropriate representation of animals and cells is also relevant to NIGMS and NIH efforts to enhance scientific rigor and data reproducibility in research.
And in her own blog post about the RFI, NIH Associate Director for Research on Women’s Health Janine Clayton said that while many scientists have already expressed support for the policy change, she has also heard from many sources that it needs “to be carefully implemented, as a true benefit to science—and not become a trivial, bureaucratic box to check.” She noted that comments in response to the RFI will guide NIH in creating “meaningful change in a deliberate and thoughtful way.”
Since NIGMS supports a significant amount of basic biomedical science that utilizes animal models and cells, we encourage our grantees to submit their input on this topic by the
October 13 deadline.
UPDATE: The deadline for submitting input has been extended to October 24.
As part of the ongoing examination of our large-scale research initiatives and centers, we’re in the process of evaluating the NIGMS National Centers for Systems Biology program. This includes conducting quantitative analyses of the program’s contributions to systems biology research, training and outreach as well as gathering qualitative input from a panel of external scientific experts.
We expect the evaluation to be complete by early 2015. The results and recommendations will help us determine a future path for supporting this field in the most effective and efficient way and in the context of competing research funding priorities and opportunities. In the meantime, we’re only accepting renewal applications for projects seeking their second, and final, 5 years of funding.
Over the 10-year course of the program, we’ve funded 21 centers covering a broad range of areas, from structural and cell biology to physiology and pharmacology. To learn more about the current and past centers, visit the Centers Web site.
We congratulate long-time NIGMS grantee Peter Walter of the University of California, San Francisco, on being recognized with the 2014 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award for his elegant and insightful work on the signal that activates the unfolded protein response (UPR). He shares the honor with Kazutoshi Mori of Kyoto University in Japan.
For more than 30 years, we have funded the Walter lab to investigate how yeast cells control the quality of their proteins and organelles to maintain homeostasis. In the 1990s, at the time Walter was conducting the research that led to this award, we supported his studies of protein translocation and the signal recognition particle, which links the nascent protein chain to the endoplasmic reticulum, where folding then occurs. This work led, in part, to his research on the downstream events associated with protein misfolding and his identification of the key signal that activates the UPR.
The UPR mechanism adjusts as needed to maintain normal cellular function and prevent disease. Sustained overactivation of the UPR has been implicated in cancer, diabetes, autoimmune conditions, liver disorders and neurodegenerative diseases. Additional studies have shown that the UPR is highly conserved and present in every cell.
The Lasker Award to Walter, who’s also an HHMI investigator, is a strong endorsement of question-driven basic research and its role in revealing unpredicted, medically important pathways.
In February, we asked for input on training activities relevant to enhancing data reproducibility, which has become a very serious issue for both basic and clinical research. The responses revealed that there is substantial variation in the training occurring at institutions. One reason is that “best practices” training in skills that influence data reproducibility appears to be largely passed down from generation to generation of scientists working in the laboratory.
To increase the likelihood that researchers generate reproducible, unbiased and properly validated results, NIGMS and nine additional NIH components have issued a funding opportunity announcement to develop, pilot and disseminate training modules to enhance data reproducibility. Appropriate areas for the modules include experimental design, laboratory practices, analysis and reporting of results, and/or the influence of cultural factors such as confirmation bias in hypothesis testing or the scientific rewards system. The modules should be creative, engaging, readily accessible online at no cost and easily incorporated into research training programs for the intended audience, which includes graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and beginning faculty.
The application deadline is November 20, 2014, with letters of intent due by October 20, 2014. Applicants may request up to $150,000 in total costs to cover the entire award period. For more details, read the FAQs.
A current research challenge is harmonizing vast amounts of heterogeneous biological data so that it can be stored, extracted, analyzed, presented and shared in a broad, uniform manner. An important step to overcoming this obstacle is creating data-related standards.
Toward this goal, NIH has issued a request for information (RFI) seeking comments on information resources for data-related standards widely used in biomedical science. Feedback on standards considered most critical, as well as existing relevant resources, could inform plans to develop a publicly available, Web-based information resource on data-related standards.
The deadline for responding to the RFI is September 30, 2014.
Our next National Advisory General Medical Sciences Council meeting is September 18-19, 2014. Although the first day is a closed session, Friday’s portion of the meeting is open to the public. You can watch the open session online.
Friday’s presentations begin at 8:30 a.m. with opening remarks by NIGMS Director Jon Lorsch. In addition, the agenda includes presentations by staff on a variety of Institute activities as well as a concept clearance for the pilot to support NIGMS investigators’ overall research programs.
You’re also welcome to attend the meeting in person and make comments during the public comment period.
If you can’t view the meeting live, you can watch it later in the videocast archive.
You may be interested in these recent funding opportunity announcements (FOAs):
Institutional Development Award (IDeA) Program Infrastructure for Clinical and Translational Research (IDeA-CTR) (U54)
Purpose: Develop infrastructure and other resources to conduct clinical and translational research in IDeA-eligible states
Letter of intent due date: 30 days prior to the application due date
Application due dates: October 8, 2014; September 30, 2015; September 30, 2016
NIGMS contact: J. Rafael Gorospe, 301-435-0832
The NIGMS Human Genetic Cell Repository (U42)
Purpose: Maintain the current collection of NIGMS Human Genetic Cell Repository cell cultures and DNA samples; acquire, characterize and expand high-quality cell samples; and distribute cell lines and DNA isolated from them to qualified biomedical researchers
Application due date: October 1, 2014
NIGMS contact: Michael Bender, 301-594-0943
The basic biomedical research NIGMS supports is essential for the groundbreaking advances that enhance human health, but drawing a connection between an NIGMS-funded research project and a specific medical advance can be difficult. First, it can be decades between the study of a scientific question and the application of the resulting knowledge to improving human health. Second, in most cases, it’s not a single project or experiment that leads to a “eureka moment” with tangible benefits, but rather the combination of many projects. Third, the projects may be supported by different funding sources (various NIH institutes, other federal agencies, private organizations and foundations), and these sources often change during the decades of development. What started as an NIGMS project may later get funded by an NIH institute whose mission is disease-specific, followed by private funding as the advance becomes commercialized.
We’re always looking for new ways to identify these connections, and we think you can help. We’re soliciting stories that make a clear association between NIGMS-funded research and improvements in health, well-being or other tangible benefits to the public and/or economy. We’re also interested in applications in medicine, industry, technology or elsewhere that have their roots in NIGMS-funded research projects. We especially encourage our long-time grantees to share their stories of discovery.
We’re not looking for “Nobel Prize”-type stories or scientific breakthroughs that might in the future lead to improvements in the human condition. Rather, we want complete stories that can trace current treatments, therapeutics or diagnostics back to knowledge or insights gained from one or more NIGMS-funded projects. These examples will augment our own staff’s efforts to identify such stories and help us further fill out the historical context of breakthroughs in basic research and their impacts.
We’re using the Challenge.gov mechanism for this purpose, which enables us to give monetary awards of $500 to winning entries. We’ll also post the winning stories on our Web site. Submissions are due by October 20, 2014, and we look forward to seeing what you send in!