Conversations with the Scientific Community

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One of my activities as NIGMS director is meeting with members of the scientific community, including leadership groups from scientific societies. These conversations offer a valuable forum for sharing ideas and perspectives, and I find them informative and interesting.

A few weeks ago, for example, I met with the board of the Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS)Link to external web site The group of more than 30 people who visited me in Bethesda ranged from graduate students to senior scientists. We had a spirited dialogue about training and career development, including issues related to the diversity of the scientific workforce, and methods for fostering communication between NIH and the scientific community. I briefly discussed our preparations for a strategic plan on training and career development, which I announced at our recent advisory council meeting.

I’ll do a Feedback Loop post in early March with more details on the strategic planning process, including a request for input.

NIGMS staff and I welcome the opportunity to meet with groups and individuals who would like to know more about the Institute’s activities and plans. To arrange a meeting, feel free to e-mail me at bergj@nigms.nih.gov or NIGMS communications director Ann Dieffenbach at dieffena@nigms.nih.gov.

Budget News

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On February 1, the President released his budget request for Fiscal Year 2011. The proposed budget for NIH calls for an increase of 3.2% over the Fiscal Year 2010 enacted levels (not including funds associated with the Recovery Act). The proposed budget for NIGMS represents a 3.6% increase over Fiscal Year 2010.

A major contributor to the larger increase for NIGMS compared with NIH overall is that the budget calls for a 6% increase in stipends associated with Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Awards. NIGMS supports substantially more training positions than the average across NIH.

The release of the President’s budget request is the first step in the appropriations process, which includes Congressional hearings and culminates with the passage and signing of a bill that appropriates funds for NIH.

We recently posted our Financial Management Plan for Fiscal Year 2010. Among the plan’s key elements are increasing the average size of a competing research project grant by approximately 2%, reducing noncompeting awards by 1% and increasing stipends on National Research Service Awards by 1%.

Give Input on NIH Basic Behavioral and Social Science Opportunities

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As I noted in a previous post, NIH recently launched the Basic Behavioral and Social Science Opportunity Network (OppNet) and issued four funding opportunity announcements for the current fiscal year.

OppNet is now planning initiatives for future years. Key to this effort is obtaining input from all interested parties about current and emerging opportunities in basic behavioral and social sciences research that offer the greatest potential for improving health and well-being. Toward this end, OppNet has just released a request for information soliciting suggestions for both short-term (1-2 years) and long-term (3-5 years) activities, which can focus on humans or animal models.

NIGMS Cell Repository Will Expand Collection, Services

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Coriell’s cryogenic tanks filled with liquid nitrogen and millions of vials of frozen cells. Credit: Coriell Institute for Medical Research

Good news—we just awarded a five-year contract to the Coriell Institute for Medical Research to continue and expand operation of the NIGMS Human Genetic Cell Repository (HGCR) Link to external web site.

A lot of NIGMS grantees who do basic research may not be familiar with the HGCR. It currently has more than 10,000 cell lines from individuals who have genetic disorders and those who do not. The cell lines, each of which has been comprehensively characterized and is contaminant-free, represent nearly 1,000 disorders. An equally important element of the HGCR is the human variation collection, which includes samples from populations around the world.

Under the new contract, the repository will continue to acquire, characterize and distribute cell cultures and DNA samples. In the coming months, it will add induced pluripotent stem cell lines that researchers can use to study inherited diseases and the regulation of normal cell differentiation. To respond to the changing needs within the genetics community, the repository will also start accepting custom orders.

One of the real advantages of ordering materials from the repository has been and certainly will continue to be the high level of characterization and quality control.

You can read more about the repository in the NIGMS news release. You can also go to the HGCR online catalog Link to external web site to see what cell lines are available.

If you’ve used the repository, let me know what you think. If you haven’t, keep it in mind for future studies—it’s a great resource for getting good quality human cell lines, especially ones that may otherwise be difficult to obtain.

Funding Opportunities in Basic Behavioral and Social Sciences Research

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Less than two months ago, NIH announced a new initiative, the Basic Behavioral and Social Science Opportunity Network (OppNet). Richard Hodes, the director of the National Institute on Aging, and I co-chair the steering committee for this exciting, trans-NIH effort.

The first year of OppNet activities will use $10 million in Recovery Act funds and focus on short-term efforts to develop existing programs’ capacity for conducting basic behavioral and social sciences research. Starting in Fiscal Year 2011, OppNet will be supported through NIH’s pool of common funds shared across its institutes and centers.

NIH has just issued the following OppNet opportunities for funding in the current fiscal year:

  • Recovery Act Limited Competition: NIH Basic Behavioral and Social Science Opportunity Network (OppNet) Short-term Mentored Career Development Awards in the Basic Behavioral and Social Sciences for Mid-career and Senior Investigators (K18), RFA-OD-10-003; applications are due February 18, 2010.
  • NIH Announces the Availability of Recovery Act Funds for Competitive Revision Applications (R01, R03, R15, R21, R21/R33, and R37) through the NIH Basic Behavioral and Social Science Opportunity Network (OppNet), NOT-OD-10-032; applications are due March 2, 2010.
  • NIH Announces the Availability of Recovery Act Funds for Competitive Revision Applications (R01, R03, R15, R21, R21/R33, and R37) for HIV/AIDS-related Research through the NIH Basic Behavioral and Social Science Opportunity Network (OppNet), NOT-OD-10-033; applications are due March 25, 2010.
  • NIH Announces the Availability of Recovery Act Funds for Competitive Revision Applications for Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Transfer Technology Research Grants (R43/R44 and R41/R42) through the NIH Basic Behavioral and Social Science Opportunity Network (OppNet), NOT-OD-10-034; applications are due March 25, 2010.
  • NIH Announces the Availability of HIV/AIDS Funds for Competitive Revision Applications (R01, R03, R15, R21, R21/R33, R37) for HIV/AIDS-related Research through the NIH Basic Behavioral and Social Science Opportunity Network (OppNet), NOT-OD-10-036; applications are due May 7, 2010.

OppNet’s Web site has more details about the initiative and FAQs related to the funding announcements. As plans develop, the site also will include information about potential future initiatives and opportunities to provide input. To automatically receive updates, send an e-mail to listserv@list.nih.gov and in the body of the message include: subscribe nih-oppnet-l your name.

Electronic Application Correction Period Temporarily Extended

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To accommodate the transition to new application forms and instructions, NIH has temporarily extended the electronic application error correction window to five business days for applications due between January 25 and May 7, 2010. This allows additional time for applicants who may have inadvertently used the wrong forms to correct their applications. Please remember that applications using the wrong forms or that exceed the new page limits will not be reviewed.

For more on the application changes, see my October 13 post.

Think Big with New $80 Million NIH Recovery Act Program

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Recovery Act Logo - Recovery.govA new Recovery Act funding announcement from the NIH Office of the Director came out last week, and it offers plenty of opportunities for the NIGMS community.

If you plan to apply for the NIH Director’s Opportunity for Research in Five Thematic Areas (RC4), think big! Only projects with budgets of more than $500,000 in total costs per year for three years will be considered. A key requirement is that the application must be for a research project—no bricks and mortar; no high-end, off-the-shelf instruments—although it can be for a project that develops infrastructure.

The five thematic areas included in the program were enunciated by NIH Director Francis Collins in his first town hall meeting and in the January 1, 2010, issue of Science (PDF 240KB, Acrobat Reader ). They include:

  1. Applying genomics and other high-throughput technologies to address questions in a comprehensive way (often described with the word “all,” as in all genes in an organism, all human proteins and their structures, or all major pathways for signal transduction);
  2. Translating basic science discoveries into new and better treatments, diagnostics and therapeutics;
  3. Using science to enable health care reform—this includes prevention; better and cheaper treatments; research on health disparities, social and behavioral factors; large population studies; comparative effectiveness research; personalized medicine; pharmacogenomics; and health services research;
  4. Focusing on global health, from discovery to the development and formulation of prevention and intervention strategies that tackle infectious, parasitic and chronic diseases worldwide; and
  5. Reinvigorating the biomedical research community by encouraging new collaborations and by recruiting and retaining new investigators (applications addressing this theme are still expected to be research projects).

Since the funding is limited to three years, projects must have a high short-term impact. Applications for projects with a longer timeframe should include a plan for maintaining the research efforts without any expectation of further financial assistance from NIH.

Letters of intent are due February 15, 2010, and applications are due March 15, 2010.

If you have questions, you can e-mail or call me at 301-594-1158.

New PSI:Biology Technology Development Opportunities

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psi_logoWe have just issued new program announcements to develop technologies for protein modeling (PAR-10-075, PAR-10-076) and high-throughput structural biology research (PAR-10-074, PAR-10-073). These announcements are part of the PSI:Biology initiative that will apply high-throughput structure determination to a broad range of biological problems. Advances in comparative molecular modeling and high-throughput approaches will play an important role in the success of this initiative.

Protein Modeling

The protein modeling announcements aim to increase the quality of protein structure models. Because they promote collaborative research and exploratory approaches in developing novel comparative modeling technology, we encourage applications from new and established investigators in mathematics, physics, computer science, statistics or other quantitative disciplines.

High-Throughput Structural Biology Research

These announcements solicit proposals for improved experimental methods and techniques for all aspects of structural biology investigations. We particularly welcome projects related to proteins that aren’t currently amenable to high-throughput structural determination by X-ray crystallography and/or NMR spectroscopy.

Successful applicants for all four announcements will become part of the PSI:Biology network.

I can answer specific questions about the modeling announcements, and Charles Edmonds can answer questions about the high-throughput ones.

ASCB Meeting: It’s an Exciting Time for Cell Biology

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ASCB ProgramLast week, the American Society for Cell Biology held its 49th annual meeting Link to external website in San Diego. There were thousands of attendees, including many of our funded investigators as well as a few of us from NIGMS. As a new program director, I enjoyed meeting many of the grantees and applicants I’ve talked to on the phone or by e-mail. I met a few others, too, who stopped by the NIGMS booth to get information on funding opportunities.

I can’t even begin to come up with an exhaustive list of all highlights from the 5-day program, so I will share just a few.

I was most excited about how discoveries made using “simple” organisms, such as yeast and unicellular algae, are informing models of human disease in new ways. For example, studies of centriole biogenesis and cilia formation in invertebrates have provided a mechanistic understanding of human ciliopathic disorders such as Bardet-Biedl syndrome. Interestingly, the relationship between human disorders and basic research is a two-way street: By doing a genetic analysis of plant and invertebrate orthologs of genes mutated in people with Bardet-Biedl syndrome, researchers have identified an evolutionarily conserved ciliogenesis “toolkit.”

In his keynote symposium talk, Dr. Rudolf Jaenisch presented another way to think about model systems. He discussed the potential of deriving induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells from patients, causing the cells to differentiate into a certain type or organ system, and then using the differentiated cells to test for patient-specific drug interventions or gene therapy treatments. There are still scientific and technical challenges, such as recreating the progression of disease development and pathology in a culture dish, but I think that using iPS cells to model human disease may revolutionize our understanding of the cellular basis of disease and, in turn, help us learn more about how normal cells work.

The meeting also stressed the importance of science outreach. During a plenary lecture about the role of NIH in supporting basic research, especially in cell biology, NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins also talked about the role of scientists in educating various groups on the intrinsic value and economic impact of scientific research. Dr. Lawrence S. B. Goldstein echoed this sentiment during his acceptance speech for the ASCB Public Service Award by describing how even small efforts, such as explaining the potential of stem cell research to your neighbor, can have a cumulative impact.

I left knowing that this is definitely an exciting time to be a cell biologist, and I’m already looking forward to the 2010 meeting in Philadelphia.

Update on Funding Opportunities for Collaborations between Investigators with Animal Behavior and Molecular/Genomics Expertise

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The Collaborative Research for Molecular and Genomic Studies of Basic Behavior in Animal Models program announcement (PA-07-096) will expire on January 8, 2010. We will be reissuing this program announcement in 2010, but not in time for you to submit an application for the February or March R01 deadlines.

The purpose of PA-07-096 and its successor is to facilitate collaborative research between investigators with expertise in animal behavior and those with expertise in molecular biology and/or genomics that addresses questions about the mechanisms of behavior in animal models. The long-term goal is to develop new or enhanced animal models for studying aspects of behavior relevant to the NIH mission. We encourage applications from multiple PIs.

The first deadlines for applications submitted in response to the reissued program announcement will be June 7, 2010 (for new applications) and July 6, 2010 (for resubmissions). Beginning in June and July 2010, we’ll start accepting applications for the standard R01 deadlines: June/July, October/November and February/March.

Regardless of when you apply or resubmit an application for this reissued program announcement, you’ll need to use the new R01 application forms and instructions with shorter page limits.

Curious about what the reissued announcement will look like? Ask me!