A Look at Our AREA Grants

Academic Research Enhancement Award (AREA, R15) grants support small-scale research projects in the biomedical and behavioral sciences conducted by faculty and students at educational institutions that have not been major recipients of NIH research grant funds. Recently, a faculty member at an AREA grant-eligible institution wrote to NIGMS Director Jon Lorsch urging the Institute to support more AREA grants, arguing that these grants not only train students but are also cost-effective. This prompted us to take a close look at our portfolio of R15 grants. I’d like to share what we found. Thanks to Tony Moore and Ching-Yi Shieh for providing data in the figures.

NIGMS receives the largest number of R15 applications of any NIH institute. This is not surprising, since faculty and students at eligible institutions typically focus on basic research using model organisms and systems. Table 1 shows that the number of AREA grants awarded by NIGMS in each of the last 10 fiscal years has varied from a high of 63 in Fiscal Year 2007 to a low of 36 in Fiscal Year 2010 and that total funding for these grants has ranged from $8.9 million to $18.4 million. As shown in the first figure, NIGMS funds more R15s than any other institute, in recent years between 21% and 29% of the NIH total.

 Fiscal Year Number of Applications Number of
Total Funding
($ in millions)
 2004 128 48 $9,867
 2005 142 49 $10,382
 2006 171 50 $10,602
 2007 200 63 $13,387
 2008 167 53 $11,158
 2009 172 42 $8,903
 2010 199 36 $9,766
 2011 313 62 $18,441
 2012 306 56 $17,925
 2013 304 45 $16,035

Table 1. Number of R15 applications received and awarded by NIGMS and the total funding for R15s in Fiscal Years 2004-2013.

Figure 1. Percentage of NIH R15 dollars awarded by NIGMS. NIGMS (in yellow) has typically supported between 21% and 29% of NIH-funded R15s. The exception was in Fiscal Year 2010, the last year of Recovery Act funding, when the NIH Office of the Director (OD) co-funded a large number of R15s.

The NIGMS success rate for R15s tends to be higher than the overall NIH success rate, although both have been declining steadily over the past 10 years (Figure 2). This decline is due to several factors: an increase in the number of applications, a bump-up in the size of AREA grants in Fiscal Year 2010 from $150,000 to $300,000 in direct costs, and a flat NIH budget. Figure 2 also shows that success rates for R01 grants have been falling as well. While success rates for both NIGMS and NIH R15 grants had usually been higher than those for R01s, in the last several years they have been lower.

Figure 2. Success rates of NIGMS and NIH R15s and R01s in Fiscal Years 2004-2013. Although the NIGMS success rates for both R15s and R01s tend to be higher than the NIH R15 and R01 success rates, all have been declining for the past 10 years. The declines have been greater for R15s than for R01s. In Fiscal Year 2004, 38% of NIGMS R15 applicants were awarded R15s versus 15% in Fiscal Year 2013. The decline in success rate for R15s is due largely to the increase in the number of applications and, since Fiscal Year 2010, to the increased amount of money an applicant can request.

As you can see in Figure 3, over the 10-year period, the funds spent on R15 grants have fluctuated and have made up between about 0.7% and 1.3% of NIGMS’ budget for research project grants (which are largely R01s). Across NIH, AREA grants account for an even smaller amount, about 0.5% last year compared with 1.2% for NIGMS.

Figure 3. Dollars (in thousands) spent by NIGMS for R15s in Fiscal Years 2004-2013 (blue bars, right axis) and the percent of the NIGMS research project grant (RPG) budget that went to R15 grants (green line, left axis).

Does our investment in AREA grants pay off? There are a number of ways to estimate their impact, including quantitative measures such as the number of publications that result from the project, as well as outcomes that are more difficult to measure such as encouraging students to pursue careers in biomedical research and enhancing the educational environment.

While the number of publications per grant is far from a perfect indicator of research productivity, we found that the number of publications attributed to any AREA grant over its entire duration varies tremendously, as shown in Figure 4. Nearly three-fourths of all AREA grantees publish at least one paper, and some produce many publications over the lifetime of their awards. Considering that AREA grantees often have heavy teaching loads and employ undergraduates rather than graduate students and postdocs to assist with the research, these numbers are encouraging.

Figure 4. Number of publications over the duration of NIGMS R15 grants in Fiscal Years 2004-2013.

We hope you will share your AREA grant success stories with us.

Attend or Watch Online: Medical Scientist Training Program 50th Anniversary Symposium

NIGMS Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) 50th anniversary symposiumThis year is the 50th anniversary of the NIGMS Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP), which supports research training leading to the combined M.D.-Ph.D. (or other dual) degree. Starting with only three institutions and a handful of supported students, the program has grown to 45 institutions and more than 900 trainees per year.

We’re marking this milestone year with a symposium on Thursday, July 17, from 8:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m. on the NIH campus in Bethesda, MD. The event will feature remarks by NIH Director Francis Collins and Association of American Medical Colleges President and CEO Darrell Kirch as well as talks by seven current and former MSTP trainees.

Although the symposium is free, we would like participants to register to attend. If you can’t join us in person, you can watch the event live online.

Plans for a scholarly article highlighting the history of the MSTP are under way. If you have comments, anecdotes, historical data, photos or other relevant images, please let us know by writing a note in the comments box on the meeting registration site or by sending me an e-mail message.

Protein Data Bank Passes 100,000-Structure Mark

Protein Data Bank (PDB) counter showing 100,147 total number of entries.
The latest update brings the total number of PDB entries to 100,147.

The Protein Data Bank (PDB) Exit icon just passed a major threshold—the release of its 100,000th entry. This free online repository of experimentally determined protein and nucleic acid structures, which NIGMS and other parts of NIH have helped fund since 1978, facilitates atomic-level insight into protein structure and function. PDB is widely used by the scientific community to study basic biological processes like transcription, translation, enzymology, bioenergetics and metabolism and also for more medically oriented investigations into disease mechanisms and drug design.

In addition to scientists, students and educators use the digital resource for their own explorations of protein structure, function and interactions as well as to gain greater knowledge about biology.

Number of structures available in the PDB per year, with selected examples. For details, see http://www.eurekalert.org/multimedia/pub/73206.php?from=267554 Exit icon.

Approximately 260,000 visitors access PDB each month. Scientists around the world currently deposit about 200 structures per week, which PDB staff review, annotate and augment with links to other relevant biological data. To meet the challenges posed by large structures, complex chemistry and use of multiple experimental methods, the repository recently launched a software tool for structure deposition and annotation Exit icon.

If you aren’t already a PDB user, I encourage you to check out its resources to see if they could help advance your research.


Watch the May 23 Advisory Council Meeting Live or Later

Once again, we’re videocasting the open session of the National Advisory General Medical Sciences Council meeting. The half-day session begins at 8:30 a.m. on Friday, May 23, with opening remarks by NIGMS Director Jon Lorsch.

We’ll also hear talks by NIH Chief Officer for Scientific Workforce Diversity Hannah Valantine and Council member Richard Lalonde of Pfizer, Inc.

Other items on the agenda include presentations on our cell repository and our postdoctoral research associate program as well as a concept clearance for data reproducibility training modules.

If you can’t view the meeting live, you can watch it later in the videocast archive.

You’re also welcome to attend the meeting in person and make comments during the public comment period.

CSR Launches Competition for Ideas to Detect Bias and Maximize Fairness in Peer Review

As part of NIH’s efforts to address racial disparities Exit icon in grant funding, the Center for Scientific Review (CSR) has just launched two America COMPETES Act Challenges. We hope that the ideas we receive will help us maximize the fairness and vitality of the peer review process, and we encourage you to enter.

One challenge, New Methods to Detect Bias in Peer Review, solicits ideas for strategies to detect possible bias in the NIH peer review process. Submissions can include approaches, strategies, methodologies and/or measures that would be sensitive to detecting bias among reviewers due to gender, race/ethnicity, institutional affiliation, area of science and amount of research experience. We’ll award first place ($10,000) and second place ($5,000) prizes in two categories: best empirically based idea and most creative idea.

The other challenge, Strategies to Strengthen Fairness and Impartiality in Peer Review, seeks ideas for reviewer training methods aimed at enhancing fairness and impartiality in NIH peer review. The submission does not require the full development of training materials. However, ideas should be presented with enough detail to allow assessment of their ability to address fairness and impartiality in review with regard to gender, race/ethnicity, institutional affiliation, area of science and amount of research experience. We’ll give first place ($10,000) and second place ($5,000) prizes for the best overall idea.

The challenges close on June 30, and winners will be announced on September 2. Details on the rules and submission procedures are on the CSR Challenge Web site and at http://www.challenge.gov Exit icon.

This contest is just one of many initiatives CSR is working on to evaluate the sources of racial disparities in grant funding in collaboration with the ACD Diversity Working Group Subcommittee on Peer Review.

Wanted: Program Directors to Manage Grants in Developmental and Cellular Processes, Research/Student Research Development Programs

NIGMS is still looking for two program directors (also known as “health scientist administrators (HSA)/program officers”) to manage research grants and/or student research development program(s).

One position is in our Developmental and Cellular Processes Branch of the Division of Genetics and Developmental Biology. This branch supports research on the genetic and biochemical pathways that cells utilize in development and in normal physiological processes. Candidates should have expertise in the use of state-of-the-art molecular genetics and/or genomics-based approaches to address questions in these scientific areas.

The other position is in the Postdoctoral Training Branch of the Division of Training, Workforce Development, and Diversity. This branch supports research training, fellowship and career development programs for postdoctoral scientists. Candidates should have knowledge of and/or experience in understanding, planning and managing research/student research development program(s) at the postdoctoral or early stage investigator career level, including those targeted to groups that are underrepresented in biomedical and behavioral sciences. Candidates with expertise in innovations for teaching in STEM fields as well as research experience in other scientific areas within the NIGMS mission are also encouraged to apply.

For both positions, candidates should have leadership and strong oral and written communication skills. Familiarity with NIH extramural funding as a grant applicant, reviewer or NIH scientific administrator is preferred.

Vacancy announcements typically are open for 5 calendar days. We expect this one to open tomorrow and close at midnight on Tuesday, May 13, 2014. Please see the NIH HSA Web site for position requirements and application procedures. The Applying for Scientific Administration Jobs at NIGMS blog post offers additional background and tips.

Editor’s note: The announcement for candidates with current or former federal employment status Exit icon is posted at https://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/369761700 Exit icon and closes on May 22. The one for candidates without such status is posted at https://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/370019300 Exit icon and closes on May 24.

Funding Opportunities: NIH Research Evaluation and Commercialization Hub; Centers of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) Phase III; Enabling Resources for Pharmacogenomics; Administrative Supplements for Research on Dietary Supplements

You may be interested in these recent funding opportunity announcements (FOAs):

NIH Research Evaluation and Commercialization Hub (REACH) Awards (U01)

Purpose: Facilitate and accelerate the translation of biomedical innovations into commercial products that improve patient care and enhance health
Letter of intent due date: May 26, 2014
Application due date: June 26, 2014
NIH contact: Kurt W. Marek, 301-443-8778

Limited Competition: Centers of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) Phase III – Transitional Centers (P30)

Purpose: Transition the core resources and biomedical research activities of Centers of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) into independence and sustainability
Application due dates: June 30, 2014; May 26, 2015; May 26, 2016
NIGMS contact: Rafael Gorospe, 301-435-0832

Enabling Resources for Pharmacogenomics (R24)

Purpose: Support critical enabling resources that will accelerate new research discoveries and/or the implementation of research discoveries in pharmacogenomics
Letter of intent due date: 30 days prior to the application due date
Application due dates: September 25, 2014; September 25, 2015; September 25, 2016
NIGMS contact: Rochelle Long, 301-594-3827

Administrative Supplements for Research on Dietary Supplements (Admin Supp)

Purpose: Provide supplemental funding to investigate the role of dietary supplements and/or their ingredients in health maintenance and disease prevention
Application due dates: October 15, 2014; January 15, 2015; April 15, 2015
NIGMS contact: Scott Somers, 301-594-3827

Funding Opportunities: Undiagnosed Diseases Network Gene Function Research, NIH Blueprint Program for Enhancing Neuroscience Diversity; Request for Information: Clinical Questions in Post-Resuscitation Hypothermia

You may be interested in the following announcements:

Undiagnosed Diseases Gene Function Research (R21)

Purpose: Investigate the underlying genetics, biochemistry and/or pathophysiology of newly diagnosed diseases in association with the respective gene variant(s) identified through the Undiagnosed Diseases Network
Letter of intent due date: May 23, 2014
Application due date: June 23, 2014
NIGMS contact: Donna Krasnewich, 301-594-0943

NIH Blueprint Program for Enhancing Neuroscience Diversity through Undergraduate Research Education Experiences (R25)

Purpose: Enhance biomedical research workforce diversity through the development of creative educational activities primarily focused on research experiences, skills development courses and mentoring activities
Letter of intent due date: April 28, 2014
Application due date: May 28, 2014
NIH contact: Michelle D. Jones-London, 301-451-7966

Request for Information: Current Clinical Questions in Post-Resuscitation Hypothermia

Purpose: Provide feedback on the clinical research questions that need to be answered surrounding post-resuscitation therapeutic hypothermia
Response due date: May 30, 2014
Send responses to: Jeremy Brown, 301-594-2755

Change in NIH Application Resubmission Policy

NIH has just announced a significant change in its policy for resubmission applications.

Effective immediately, for application due dates after April 16, 2014, following an unsuccessful resubmission (A1) application, applicants may submit the same idea as a new (A0) application for the next appropriate due date. NIH will not assess the similarity of the science in the new (A0) application to any previously reviewed submission when accepting an application for review.

NIH’s policy for accepting overlapping applications remains in effect (see NOT-OD-09-100), so it will not accept duplicate or highly overlapping applications under review at the same time. This means that NIH will not review:

  • A new (A0) application that is submitted before issuance of the summary statement from the review of an overlapping resubmission (A1) application.
  • A resubmission (A1) application that is submitted before issuance of the summary statement from the review of the previous new (A0) application.
  • An application that has substantial overlap with another application pending appeal of initial peer review (see NOT-OD-11-101).

The NIH time limit for accepting resubmission (A1) applications remains in effect, as well (see NOT-OD-12-128 and NOT-OD-10-140). NIH will not accept a resubmission (A1) application that is submitted later than 37 months after submission of the new (A0) application that it follows.

Also remaining in effect is the NIH policy for new investigator R01 resubmission deadlines, described in NOT-OD-11-057.

Background and details on the new resubmission policy are in NIH Guide NOT-OD-14-074 and a blog post by NIH’s Sally Rockey.

Feedback at 400

Feedback Loop LogoThis is our 400th Feedback Loop post!

A review of the past 100 posts shows that the top five most-read were:

  1. Hypothesis Overdrive?
  2. Budget Outlook for Fiscal Year 2013 and Beyond
  3. Examining Our Large-Scale Research Initiatives and Centers, Including the PSI
  4. CSR’s Percentiling Recalibration
  5. Principles for Initial Funding Decisions in Fiscal Year 2014

It’s not surprising that many of the most popular posts were about budget trends and factors affecting peer review and funding decisions. We’ll certainly keep providing you with this kind of information, but we’re wondering if you have suggestions for other topics you’d be interested in reading about—and commenting on—as well. These could include occasional pieces like the one I posted late last month, which generated a lot of good discussion.

Please let me know your thoughts, either by posting a comment or by e-mail. We want to keep the feedback moving in both directions.