Bridging the Sciences

The Biophysical Society spearheaded its Bridging the Sciences initiative in 2003, to advance research at the interface of the biomedical sciences and the physical, mathematical and computational sciences. The Society organized a Coalition for Bridging the Sciences, representing over 260,000 scientists, that believed that by emphasizing research on the components of physics, chemistry, engineering, mathematics, and computer science that interface with biology and medicine, we can “bridge the sciences” and fill in gaps in current scientific research and develop new tools to fuel the next generation of research in the life sciences. Support for this cross-disciplinary and upstream research would provide a greater understanding of biological processes and would allow for accelerated discovery of solutions to some of the most difficult problems in biomedicine. Furthermore, by enhancing federal support for breakthrough scientific discoveries, we can enhance America’s competitive edge over the rest of the world economically and intellectually.

The Creation of the Bridging the Sciences Demonstration Program

The Coalition’s advocacy and education efforts paid off when the Bridging the Sciences Demonstration Program was created by H.R. 6164, The NIH Reform Act of 2006. The program is funded out of the NIH Director’s Office. The program does not have its own line item in the Congressional budget. An Oversight committee, chaired by NIGMS Director Jeremy Berg and NIBIB Director Rod Pettigrew, is in charge of the program.

In March 2010, the NIH and NSF jointly announced two new research grant programs under the auspices of the Bridging the Sciences Demonstration Program: New Biomedical Frontiers at the Interface of the Life and Physical Sciences and Transforming Biomedicine at the Interface of the Life and Physical Sciences. The former focuses on basic research and the latter on clinical and translational research.

The program announcements for New Biomedical Frontiers at the Interface of the Life and Physical Sciences and Transforming Biomedicine at the Interface of the Life and Physical Sciences indicate that many of the specific items the coalition advocated for were included in the programs. Both programs will provide grants of varying sizes and lengths to accommodate a variety of research, encourage young investigators with novel ideas to apply, and will be reviewed by special review panels that include reviewers from the physical, mathematical, and computational sciences. Applications will be accepted once a year in May through 2012.

According to NIH officials, the number of grants awarded will depend on the quality and quantity of applicants. The National Science Foundation will fund or co-fund deserving grants that fall under the agency’s purview and meet NSF application guidelines.

The Coalition hopes that once the NIH budget begins receiving budget increases again, the program will grow to a size that allows it to be a feasible option for researchers with success rates comparable to other extramural individual investigator grant programs sponsored by the NIH.

Why is it necessary to advocate for research at the interface?

The federal government funding agencies are set up as independent silos, with the National Institutes of Health funding biomedicine and the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy Office of Science funding physical science and nonmedical biology. Science at the interface falls between the cracks. A new program focused specifically on cross-disciplinary and upstream research is necessary to ensure that cross-disciplinary research is given the support in deserves.|

Supporting research at the intersection of biomedical and physical, mathematical and computational sciences will facilitate groundbreaking science that lead to new diagnostic and therapeutic technologies that will save and enhance lives. Breakthroughs such as x-ray crystallography, CAT scans, and magnetic resonance imaging have had an enormous and important effect on biology. These discoveries were funded by sources, such as the Bell Labs, which are no longer in existence. Thus, it is very difficult for researchers to work on similar breakthrough technologies today.

While the demonstration program was created by law, no research has been funded under this program to date.  In addition, the program language created by NIH does not reflect the intent of the Coalition. Thus, continued advocacy for this program, as well as others that fund research at the interface, is needed.

Bridging the Sciences Supporting Documents

The Coalition has authored and collected several resources that provide more information on bridging the sciences.

Coalition for Bridging the Sciences: Supporting Cross Disciplinary and Upstream Research

Summary of the June 2004 Meeting on Federal Support for Research at the Interface of the Physical, Math, Computational, and Life Sciences

Bridging the Sciences: What Scientific Opportunities Are We Missing? Prepared for the National Institutes of Health Director, 5/30/2007

Bridging the Sciences: A Federal Research Initiative White Paper

For more information, please contact Ellen R. Weiss at