“Join Us on the Edge of Discovery”


NIGMS LogoWe’ve posted a new job listing (link no longer available) for a position in the NIGMS Division of Cell Biology and Biophysics.

This position is for the Chief of the Structural Biology and Proteomics Technology Branch. This person will oversee the scientific and administrative management of the branch, which supports research using genomics or computational approaches to study protein structures and functions as well as the development of new tools to facilitate this work. In addition to handling a portfolio of research grants, the branch chief will also direct the Protein Structure Initiative.

The listing closes August 11, 2009. Spread the word!

UPDATE: This vacancy listing has been extended to August 18.

The Blossoming of Systems Biology


2009 Annual Meeting of the National Centers of Systems BiologyEarlier this week, I attended the annual meeting of our National Centers for Systems Biology, which was held at NIH. This was the 5th meeting since the program started in 2002, and one of its goals was to introduce NIH research staff and administrators to the exciting developments and applications of systems biology as well as the activities of the nine current centers.

Every year, I am more and more impressed with how systems biology has blossomed. This year, I was particularly pleased to see the sophistication and enthusiasm of the students and postdocs being trained at these centers. The junior scientists made a lot of new contacts over coffee and during the poster sessions, and the investigators benefitted greatly from interacting with each other, especially talking about how they handle the other goals of the centers program, such as outreach and training. A number of new collaborations were hatched.

The science presented by each center was very thought-provoking, especially the “lightning talks” delivered primarily by student presenters who had to get across the aim and conclusions of their research in just one or two minutes and using only one slide!

Outside the formal meeting, the investigators talked about the future of careers in systems biology and the professional paths of some of the students who have completed their training. It appears that the students aren’t having difficulty finding positions! There were some concerns that the intrinsically interdisciplinary nature of systems biology might pose some challenges as new hires seek to replicate the intellectual atmosphere, facilities and instrumentation that they became used to having. And, there was the question of how tenure would be handled in traditional departments with established boundaries. Most of the investigators thought that systems biology, like “molecular biology” before it, should be viewed as an approach, not a defined discipline, and that systems thinking would likely permeate the establishment as it matures.

I suspect that this year’s participants, like myself, experienced a strong sense of being part of a rapidly developing new wave of science. My overall impression is that the future of systems biology appears to be in good hands—an outcome we hoped for when the centers program was designed.

If you’re interested in systems biology and the abstracts of the science presented, you might check out our new portal for the centers, which made its debut at the meeting. It’ll be the clearinghouse for center activities and resources. It will also have a lot of information on available courses, lectures, research/job opportunities, funding announcements, available data and software.

A Diverse Recovery Act “Portfolio”


We know you’re eagerly awaiting Recovery Act funding decisions and curious about how we plan to distribute these funds. Although we still don’t have all the information we need to make firm allocations, I can provide the following snapshot of what we’re currently projecting.

About three-quarters of NIH’s Recovery Act appropriation was distributed to the institutes and centers, which have considerable flexibility in how they invest these funds. Our strategy at NIGMS is a diversified one, as shown in the figure below.

Estimated Distribution of NIGMS Recovery Act Funds

Applications in the first five categories (RPG Supplements, Two-Year RPGs, AREA Grants, SBIR/STTR and Training) were submitted and reviewed prior to the Recovery Act. The next three categories (GO Grants, Challenge Grants and Faculty Start-Up P30) are Recovery Act programs that solicited new applications, which are now being reviewed. The final category (Other) includes supplements to research centers, research management and support, and some other programs. RPG supplements is the largest category, followed by Two-Year RPGs. The remaining categories are much smaller.Applications in the first five categories (blue) were submitted and reviewed prior to the Recovery Act. The next three categories (red) are Recovery Act programs that solicited new applications, which are now being reviewed. The final category (black) includes supplements to research centers, research management and support and some other programs.

Some institutes that had very low R01 success rates are using nearly all of their Recovery Act funds for two-year grants to support previously submitted and reviewed applications for R01s and other grants. NIGMS has maintained a higher success rate, in part by making relatively large administrative budget adjustments to funded grants. We know that this approach can make it difficult to achieve some grant aims in a timely manner. The Recovery Act offers an opportunity to accelerate the pace of this previously peer-reviewed and funded research while creating jobs and stimulating the economy.

Because our success rate is higher than those of most other institutes, we are making a relatively large number of Recovery Act awards for administrative supplements and revisions. The next largest category, two-year research project grants, will support exciting proposals that we were not able to fund with our regular appropriations.

We are not making awards in a formulaic manner, but rather on a case-by-case basis. For two-year grants, each applicant can renegotiate specific aims as appropriate.

We are working to award Recovery Act funds as quickly as possible to benefit the economy and drive scientific progress. Applications for the GO, Challenge and faculty start-up P30 grants are now in, and peer review is under way. Once this review is complete, we will make funding decisions consistent with the areas of interest we stated in the funding announcements.

But even applications that were previously peer reviewed must go through additional steps before we finalize each award.

To help the American public see the distribution of Recovery Act funds in their communities, NIH recently launched a beta version of a Recovery Act funding map. You may be particularly interested in the option to list all grants at an institution, available by clicking on a state in the drop-down list or the table below the U.S. map.

As we move ahead in making these awards, we are also looking forward to tracking the impact of the funding on stimulating the economy, creating and retaining jobs, and producing exciting new results. We look forward to hearing from you about these outcomes and will be providing additional mechanisms to make this easy for you to do.

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.

Inspiring the Next Generation of Chemists: Snapshots from the Meeting of Nobel Laureates

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John Schwab here, reporting from the 59th Meeting of Nobel Laureates on the Island of Lindau on Bodensee, near the point where Germany, Switzerland and Austria meet. Since 1951, the annual Lindau meetings have sought to educate, inspire and connect generations of scientists. There are 583 young scientists here from around the world, including about 70 graduate students from the United States. NIGMS is sponsoring the participation of 16 of these students, and this is the first year that NIH has joined DOE, NSF and others in supporting graduate students to attend.

Live Stream of the 59th Meeting of Nobel Laureates.  Watch the opening ceremony, lectures and the panel discussion live. Starting on Sunday, June 28th.This year’s meeting is dedicated to chemistry. As you know, NIGMS supports lots of basic science, which includes different “flavors” of chemistry. Many chemistry Nobel laureates are, or have been, NIGMS grantees. Several of them—such as Robert Grubbs, Richard Schrock and Roger Tsien —are among the 23 laureates attending the Lindau meeting.

During the week-long symposium, our students are networking with their international colleagues, being exposed to the entire spectrum of chemistry laureates and participating in discussions about science and society. The students are generally in their second or third year (some are in their fourth). They’re a very bright and motivated group. They’re experienced enough to understand much of the science, and they’re really excited to be here.

The talks so far have covered quite a range. Here are a few highlights:

  • Gerhard Ertl spoke about surface science and showed time-resolved images of individual atoms moving around and self-organizing on a surface. Amazing!
  • Sherwood Rowland and Paul Crutzen spoke about atmospheric chemistry, greenhouse gases and global warming. This was the science behind the project for which Al Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize. Very exciting yet sobering.
  • Ryoji Noyori gave a pure science talk about asymmetric catalysis.
  • Hartmut Michel spoke about the structure and function of cytochrome C oxidase, a membrane protein.

One of the most interesting and unconventional talks was given by NMR spectroscopist Richard Ernst and titled “Passions and Activities Beyond Science.” He talked about the inspiration and pleasure he has gotten from his study of Buddhism and Tibetan art. His interest ranges from history to culture to fine art to the science of restoration of ancient artwork. His message was an important one for the students: that science need not be the only passion of a productive and creative scientist—that being a scientist doesn’t have to mean being narrowly focused!

I’ve been enjoying “spreading the word” about what NIGMS is all about, and I’m looking forward to yet more stimulating science and fun interactions with a group of bright, creative students.

Interested in Research Training Fellowships?


NIH has just reissued program announcements for Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) individual fellowships at the predoctoral (F31), postdoctoral (F32) and senior (F33) levels.

Scientist in her labIf you plan to apply, be sure to read the recent NIH Guide notice applying to NRSAs. Effective with the August 8, 2009, submission date, NIH will only accept electronic applications for F-series programs. There are other changes, too, including how letters of reference are submitted, how many amended applications you may submit (only one), and how review is structured (there are now five review criteria). In addition, reviewers will use the new scoring system for individual fellowships starting with applications reviewed at the summer 2009 study section meetings.

I am happy to answer your questions about the F32s and F33s, and Adolphus Toliver can answer questions about the diversity-oriented F31s.

As some of you may know, I recently became the acting research training director at NIGMS after John Norvell retired this past March. For more than 20 years, John provided outstanding leadership for training at NIGMS and across NIH, and he brought about many significant improvements.

I welcome your input on training matters and look forward to working with you in my new role.

Getting More Women into Science


Recently, John Whitmarsh, one of my colleagues at NIGMS, pointed out a short article called “The Glass Ceiling’s Math Problem” Link to external web site from the May 31 edition of the Washington Post. It highlighted a study Link to external web site by researchers associated with the National Bureau of Economic Research that focused on 9,500 U.S. Air Force Academy students from 2000-2008. The findings showed that female students (but not male students) performed better and were more likely to go on in science when they were taught by female faculty members.

I wondered why the population from the Air Force Academy was chosen for this study. I learned that Air Force Academy students are assigned to faculty randomly, and they all must take math and science courses. These characteristics minimized factors of self-selection bias due to students choosing particular faculty, which would confound similar analyses at many other institutions. I encourage you to read the study and welcome any comments you may have.

Women in Biomedical Careers Web Site BannerThis recent work aligns with an ongoing effort at NIH to encourage the advancement of women in research careers. As part of this effort, NIGMS has led an initiative to identify and support research related to understanding the factors and interventions that encourage and support the careers of women in biomedical and behavioral science and engineering. I’m pleased to say that there was a strong response to the request for applications and that we expect to make awards soon.

Now Showing: Budget Testimony

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As part of the budget development process, I submit testimony each year to the House and Senate appropriations committees. My most recent statement is now online, as are previous ones.

This year, we decided to try something different and also offer a video version of the testimony. We deliberately kept it simple and want to know what you think of it.

Download free QuickTime Player Link to external web site to view the following video.

Dr. Jeremy Berg's Appropriations Subcommittee Statement on the Fiscal Year 2010 Budget - May 21, 2009

Do you like having the option of watching a video in addition to reading the text? Should we keep doing this? Do you have suggestions for other approaches we should consider?

Changes to Peer Review—the Reviewer’s Perspective


NIH has posted a video on the Enhancing Peer Review Web site that details recent changes to the peer review system from the reviewer’s perspective. Running about 13 minutes, “What Reviewers Need to Know Now”, (Transcript [PDF, 79KB]) offers valuable information for current and prospective peer reviewers. You’ll find other resources in the PowerPoint presentation and related links that accompany the video.

Dr. Alan Willard discusses What Reviewers Need to Know Now - March 19, 2009

Many aspects of the new peer review system are already being used in study section meetings. If you have participated in any of these meetings, I am very interested in your comments and reactions.

I’d also like to mention that NIH’s Center for Scientific Review, NIGMS and other institutes and centers have a critical need right now for reviewers to help evaluate the tremendous number of applications submitted in response to Recovery Act funding opportunities. If a Scientific Review Officer asks you to participate on a review panel, I hope that you’ll agree to serve if at all possible.

Businesses Can Apply for New Technology-Oriented Recovery Act Grants


Recovery Act Logo - Recovery.govNIH has announced two new, technology-oriented Recovery Act funding opportunities targeted to businesses:

  • The Small Business Catalyst Awards for Accelerating Innovative Research (R43) will speed innovation by supporting early-stage ideas with commercial potential that promise to greatly advance a technological area within the NIH mission—not merely lead to incremental improvements of existing technologies. NIH plans to award 20 to 25 one-year grants, each up to $200,000 in total costs. Applications from small businesses with no prior NIH Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) or Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) support may receive funding priority.

If you’re interested in applying for either opportunity, send your letters of intent by August 3, 2009. Please feel free to contact me offline with specific questions.