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Public Affairs

Public Affairs

Rally for Medical Research

 

Science and Technology Hit Hard by Shutdown

When the federal government’s Fiscal Year 2014 started at 12:01 am on October 1, no appropriations bills had been passed providing funding for the continued operations of the federal government. As a result, over 800,000 federal employees, including almost all employees of the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, Department of Energy, NASA, and Department of Agriculture were ordered to stop working and sent home until Congress passed a funding bill. Grantees were instructed to keep submitting applications and required reports, but that those documents would not be processed or checked for accuracy until the government was up and running again. In addition, no new awards can be made when the government is not open and does not have funding.

The shutdown ended on October 17, 2014, when a continuing resolution funding the government through January 15, 2014 was approved by Congress and the President. Agencies will be providing guidance on their operation during this time.

Protein Structure Initiative Set to End in 2015

At the meeting of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) Advisory Council in September, Institute Director Jon Lorsch announced that NIGMS will discontinue the Protein Structure Initiative (PSI) in its current format after the completion of the five-year PSI:Biology phase in 2015. The decision was made based on an evaluation of the program conducted by outside scientists and the recommendation of the Advisory Council. “A key conclusion of the new evaluation report is that NIGMS should start planning to transition the PSI from a set-aside model to other approaches that address opportunities and challenges in structural biology while preserving any elements of the program that provide significant benefit to the broader scientific community,” said Lorsch in a National Institute of Health (NIH) press release. “This is congruent with our efforts to examine all of our initiatives, especially the large ones that began during a budget doubling period, as part of a thorough analysis of our grant portfolio and investments,” he noted.

Two committees are being formed to assist with transition planning, one composed of NIGMS and other NIH staff and one composed of external scientists. The PSI began in 2000 with a five-year pilot phase to demonstrate the feasibility of high-through put structure determination—an approach to speed the study of proteins, which can increase understanding of their medically relevant functions. In 2005, the PSI moved into its production phase, in which funded investigators utilized the methods developed during the pilot period to determine many unique protein structures and to continue methods development. PSI:Biology launched in 2010 with the goal of applying high-throughput structure determination to study a broad range of important biological and biomedical problems. Its current total annual budget is about $70 million.

The evaluation report is available at http://publications.nigms.nih.gov/psi/PSIBiology_evaluation_team_report.pdf.

Strengthening the Biomedical Research Workforce

Adding research to its initiative to improve the biomedical workforce and training, NIH is making available approximately $3.7 million for awards to enhance training opportunities for graduate students and postdoctoral scholars to prepare them for careers in the biomedical research workforce that could take them outside of conventional academic research. The awards are being funded out of the NIH Common Fund and are called “Broadening Experience in Scientific Training (BEST)” awards. The goal is to support new approaches to increasing student and trainee exposure to research-related career options.

“The NIH Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD) Biomedical Workforce Task Force analyzed the state of the biomedical workforce, and found that many trainees are pursuing research and research related careers outside of the traditional academic path that serves as the current model for training,” said Sally Rockey, Deputy Director for Extramural Research. “The BEST awards are intended to expose trainees to the multitude of career paths that utilize their PhD training.”

These awards will be for up to $250,000 in direct costs per year for up to five years, pending availability of funds. The first set of BEST awards were announced in September. A call for applications for the second round of BEST awardees is anticipated in late 2013. More information on these awards can be found at http://commonfund.nih.gov/workforce/fundedresearch.aspx.