Notice: Concept Clearance for MIDAS Coordination Center

Watch the MIDAS presentation at the September Advisory Council meeting.

At its September 2017 meeting, our Advisory Council endorsed the concept of a MIDAS Coordination Center.

MIDAS, or the Models of Infectious Disease Agent Study program, is a collaborative network of research groups that focus on developing bioinformatics tools and computational models to understand the interactions between infectious agents and their hosts, disease spread, prediction systems, and response strategies.

Initially the MIDAS network consisted of research centers (U54s), research projects (U01s), and an information service group (U24). These activities will expire in 2019, and NIGMS is shifting the focus of this program to an investigator-initiated research portfolio consisting of R01s, R35 MIRA grants, and fellowships and mentored career development awards (Fs, Ks).

However, modeling of infectious disease agents continues to be an active area where a coordinated effort is needed. NIGMS Council members supported the concept of a MIDAS Coordination Center. We envision the MIDAS Coordination Center to serve as a focal point for collaboration and training as well as testing and dissemination of MIDAS research products. The center will also act as the point of contact between the MIDAS network and public health organizations.

We expect to issue a funding opportunity announcement in early 2018, and we encourage the community to watch the presentation at our Council meeting to learn more about this program. We welcome your input and feedback on these plans. You can email your comments to me or post them here.

Early Notice: New NIGMS Institutional Predoctoral Training Grant Funding Opportunity Announcement

Dr. Alison Gammie presents on The New NIGMS Institutional Predoctoral Training Grant Funding Opportunity Announcement

The NIGMS T32 presentation at the January 2017 Advisory Council meeting begins at 1:43:07.

At the recent NIGMS Advisory Council meeting, the Division of Training, Workforce Development, and Diversity requested, and received, approval to write a new predoctoral T32 funding opportunity announcement (FOA), specifically tailored for predoctoral graduate programs in the basic sciences and designed to help catalyze the modernization of biomedical graduate education. The goal is to enable the community to develop and implement innovative approaches to education and mentoring that will more effectively and efficiently train future generations of outstanding biomedical researchers, and will allow graduate education to keep pace with the rapid evolution of the biomedical research enterprise. Taking into account the feedback we have received from various stakeholders over the past year, the new FOA will:

  • Emphasize the development of a diverse pool of exceptionally well-trained scientists;
  • Focus on skills development, rigor and reproducibility, inclusive and supportive training environments, and responsible conduct;
  • Address conflicts in the incentive structure of the research enterprise that adversely impact biomedical graduate education;
  • Encourage the use and dissemination of evidence-based, innovative educational and mentoring practices;
  • Emphasize improvements in career preparation (broadly defined), and dissemination of career outcomes on publicly available sites.

The intention is not to layer additional activities onto existing structures. Instead, this funding announcement is designed to allow for a creative reinvention of biomedical graduate education that preserves the best elements, while enhancing the focus on the development of research and professional skills by trainees.

We expect to issue the new T32 FOA this fall and to receive the first applications in May 2018. The new FOA will apply to all NIGMS predoctoral T32 training grants, except for the Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP), which will remain on the parent T32 announcement for now. We plan in the future to develop a parallel FOA that is specific for the goals of the MSTP.

We encourage the community to watch the presentation at our Council meeting and view the slide deck. As always, we welcome your input and feedback on these plans. You can post your comments below.

Why Is It important to Accurately Acknowledge NIGMS Grants in Publications?

As we’ve pointed out, it’s important to acknowledge your NIH funding in all your publications, including research articles, press releases and other documents about NIH-supported research. Your Notice of Award includes information about such acknowledgements (also see Requirements for Acknowledging NIH-Supported Research and Attribution of NIH/NIGMS Support).

If you have more than one NIGMS or NIH award, you should only cite the grant(s) that supported the research described in the publication. The specific aims should be the determining factor. This would apply even in cases where one of the authors on the article (e.g., a technician) works on multiple projects and is paid through multiple grants, or when equipment used in the reported work was purchased on a different grant.

Acknowledging multiple awards in a publication may be taken as an indicator of scientific overlap among the cited projects. This becomes important when your next application is being considered by reviewers, NIGMS Advisory Council members and NIGMS staff. For example, when considering support of research in well-funded laboratories, our Advisory Council expects the Institute to support projects only if they are highly promising and distinct from other funded work in the laboratory.

So, please take a moment to make sure that you are citing your grants accurately in your publications and avoid pitfalls when you send in your next application.

Early Notice: New Program to Support Collaborative, Team-Based Science

UPDATE: We thank the community for its initial feedback as we continue to develop plans for this program, which will support research within the NIGMS mission (including a limited number of clinical areas). The program will offer comparable levels of support as the program project (P01) mechanism, but its structure will be quite different. In addition to the capacity building and AIDS-Related Structural Biology program centers, we will continue to support the Biomedical Technology Research Resource centers (P41), Mature Synchrotron Resources (P30), and select coordinating or resource centers in areas of high strategic need.

Dr. Susan Gregurick presents on The Collaborative Grant Program

The Collaborative Grant Program presentation at the January 2017 Advisory Council meeting begins at 2:14:10.

At its January 2017 meeting, our Advisory Council endorsed a concept for a new program to support collaborative, team-based science. This initiative is the result of evaluations of our previous programs, recent research on the science of team science Exit icon, and community input.

Many research questions in biomedical science can be pursued by single investigators and their close collaborators through single- or multi-principal investigator R01 grants. However, complex research questions may require the coordinated efforts of several research laboratories and closer collaborations among researchers with diverse areas of expertise. NIGMS recognizes the importance and benefits of supporting collaborative research teams when these are necessary to achieve important scientific breakthroughs or new understanding of phenomena.

NIGMS’ new Collaborative Program Grant is designed to support highly integrated, multidisciplinary research teams of three to six investigators who will address complex research questions, train and mentor new scientists, and impact scientific problems that would benefit from coordinated research support. The key application requirements are a single, integrated research program without subprojects and a multiple-principal investigator management plan. We expect to issue a funding opportunity announcement by the summer and, beginning in 2018, we will make four to six awards per year with annual direct costs ranging from $500,000 to $1.5 million. We plan to phase out our use of the P01 and most of our other center mechanisms. We will continue to support capacity building centers, such as those of the Institutional Development Award (IDeA) program, and to support the AIDS-Related Structural Biology program centers.

We encourage the community to watch the presentation at our council meeting, and we welcome your input and feedback on these plans. You can email your comments or post them here.

New NIGMS Technology Development Program Announcements

We would like to tell you about two new technology development funding opportunity announcements (FOAs) recently published in the NIH Guide. We previously wrote about the approval of these programs by our Advisory Council. They are part of an ongoing effort to facilitate early stage, investigator-initiated work to create or improve tools for biomedical research. We think the two FOAs briefly described below will stimulate early stage technology research and development by allowing scientists to focus on making the technology work before they begin to apply those tools to biomedical research questions.

Exploratory Research for Technology Development (PAR-17-046): This program will support modest 2-year R21 grants to develop a new technology or radically improve an existing one. Projects will be high-risk and have no preliminary data. The proposed technology should be justified by a significant biomedical research need, but the proposal should not include the application of the technology to a biomedical problem—it should focus on technology development.

Focused Technology Research and Development (PAR-17-045): This program will support R01 grants that are entirely focused on the development of an emerging technology with a strong potential to impact biomedical research. The program will not allow inclusion of a significant biomedical research problem because the technology will not be ready for that until the project is over. These grants will be renewable only once.

The deadline for the first round of applications is February 16, 2017.

To help investigators determine which technology development program is right for their project, we’ve posted a decision tree on the NIGMS website. It includes descriptions of the programs designed to support all stages of technology development.

We welcome questions or comments about these FOAs or our technology development programs in general.

Trending Young in New and Early Stage Investigator MIRA

Dr. Jon Lorsch

The MIRA presentation at the September 2016 Advisory Council meeting begins at 17:13.

Following up on the previous post regarding the first MIRA awards to New and Early Stage Investigators, we issued awards to a total of 94 grantees. In addition to ensuring that we are funding the highest quality science across areas associated with NIGMS’ mission, a major goal is to support a broad and diverse portfolio of research topics and investigators. One step in this effort is to make sure that existing skews in the system are not exacerbated during the MIRA selection process. To assess this, we compared the gender, race/ethnicity and age of those MIRA applicants who received an award with those of the applicants who did not receive an award, as well as with New and Early Stage Investigators who received competitive R01 awards in Fiscal Year (FY) 2015.

We did not observe any significant differences in the gender or race/ethnicity distributions of the MIRA grantees as compared to the MIRA applicants who did not receive an award. Both groups were roughly 25% female and included ≤10% of underrepresented racial/ethnic groups. These proportions were also not significantly different from those of the new and early stage R01 grantees. Thus although the MIRA selection process did not yet enhance these aspects of the diversity of the awardee pool relative to the other groups of grantees, it also did not exacerbate the existing skewed distribution.

We did observe significant differences among the mean ages of the MIRA grantees, MIRA applicants who did not receive an award and the R01-funded grantees. The MIRA grantees are 1.5 years younger on average than those MIRA applicants who did not receive an award (37.2 vs. 38.7 years, p<0.05), and about 2 years younger than the FY 2015 R01-funded Early Stage Investigators (37.2 vs. 39.1 years, p<0.001). The R01-funded New Investigators in FY 2015, a pool which includes a few individuals older than 60 years, average an age of 45.6 years. This selection for funding investigators earlier is a promising feature of the first round of MIRA awards to New and Early Stage Investigators. As noted at the recent meeting of our Advisory Council, where Jon presented these data, 37 years is still relatively late for investigators to be getting their first major NIH grant. We will continue to monitor this issue with the goal of further decreasing that figure.

Early Notice: Revised Biomedical Technology Research Resources Program

BTRR September 2016 Advisory Council Presentation

My BTRR presentation at the September 2016 Advisory Council meeting begins at 2:23:15.

At its September 2016 meeting, our Advisory Council endorsed a concept for funding the Biomedical Technology Research Resources (BTRR) program. The concept includes a number of changes that reflect feedback from an expert panel of scientists convened by NIGMS to evaluate the program. In its report, the panel made important recommendations to:

  • Increase the flexibility and nimbleness of the program.
  • Incorporate a broader range of technologies into the program.
  • Increase new research directions and program turnover and implement a comparative review process.
  • Enable better integration of the program with the overall technology development plans at NIGMS.

The revised BTRR program will provide greater flexibility for the investigators to support a wider range of approaches for technology innovation and dissemination. The program will include collaborative subprojects to integrate emerging technologies in fast moving fields and to provide access and dissemination of these technologies. In addition, research resources funded through this program will have greater flexibility to tailor approaches for providing access, training users and disseminating the specific technologies to the communities being served.

These changes will better support the dual mission of the BTRR program: to develop high-impact technologies that enable biomedical research, and to move those technologies into wide use in the community.

We expect a funding opportunity announcement to be published in the NIH Guide later this year. In order to improve consistency in the review of competing applications, the NIH Center for Scientific Review will convene a special study section. We anticipate that most BTRR centers will not be renewed beyond three cycles (15 years) and we will require investigators involved with this program to formulate a sustainability plan for their research resources.

We welcome your input and feedback. You can email your comments to me or post them here.

Partnering with Professional Societies

Not long ago, Jon Lorsch and I and several other NIGMS staff met with the leadership of one of the professional societies that represents many of our grantees. It was an opportunity to discuss NIGMS’ policies and grant mechanisms, hear about challenges that investigators face, and share ideas about how the biomedical research and training environment can be improved.

Meetings of this kind are not unusual, but they are just one of the ways we interact with the society partners related to NIGMS’ mission and, through them, communicate with their members. Another way is by attending the societies’ scientific meetings, where our staff learn about the latest research in the field, conduct grantsmanship workshops, and answer questions about the funding process.

The professional societies help us disseminate—and receive—information. For instance, they share our notices about funding opportunities and changes in NIH policies as well as respond to our requests for information. Leadership from the professional societies attend the open sessions of our Advisory Council meetings and sometimes speak during the public comment period, enhancing the exchange of information between the Institute and our constituency.

We also collaborate with professional societies on specific activities. Recent examples include meetings convened by FASEB on rigor and reproducibility Exit icon and by ASBMB on research training. With ASCB, we co-organized the Life: Magnified exhibit, which brought biomedical science to a public place.

We greatly value our interactions with the societies and invite suggestions for additional ways we can partner.

New NIGMS Initiatives for Supporting Technology Development

The January 2016 Advisory Council meeting presentation on the initiatives begins at 1:14:43

The January 2016 Advisory Council meeting presentation on the initiatives begins at 1:14:43.

We would like to tell you about two new technology development initiatives recently approved by our Advisory Council. These programs are part of an ongoing effort that we’ve previously described to facilitate early stage, investigator-initiated work to create or improve tools for biomedical research.

Developing and providing access to technologies that enable biomedical research is a high priority for NIGMS, as expressed in our 2015 strategic plan. Historically, support for technology development has generally been coupled to using the technology to answer a biomedical research question. Although in the later stages of technology development this coupling is often useful, in the early stages it can hinder exploration of innovative ideas that could ultimately have a big impact on research.

We think the two initiatives briefly described below will stimulate early stage technology research and development by allowing scientists to focus on making the technology work before they begin to apply those tools to biomedical research questions.

Continue reading

MIRA Status and Future Plans

Now that we have completed the review process for Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA) applications from the first eligible cohort of established investigators, I would like to update you on the program’s status and plans for its future. I shared this information with our Advisory Council at its recent meeting in January.

Screenshot of video

My update on the MIRA program at the January 2016 Advisory Council meeting begins at 26:06.

The first funding opportunity announcement (FOA) we issued (RFA-GM-16-002) was for established investigators who had either two NIGMS R01s or one NIGMS R01 for more than $400,000 in direct costs. In either case, one grant had to be expiring in 2016 or 2017. Out of the 710 investigators who could have met these criteria, 179 submitted applications, corresponding to 25% of the eligible pool.

Among the eligible investigators, 80% were male and 20% were female. This ratio was unchanged among those who applied, as were the percentages across racial and ethnic groups (Figure 1). Thus, although the demographics of the group of investigators that was eligible for this first FOA were skewed in several ways, the skewing was not exacerbated in those who chose to apply. Continue reading