Advisory Council Minutes, January 28-29, 2016

The National Advisory General Medical Sciences (NAGMS) Council was convened in closed session for its one hundred sixtieth meeting at 8:30 a.m. on Thursday, January 28, 2016.

Dr. Jon R. Lorsch, director of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), presided as chair of the meeting. After a closed session from 8:31 a.m. to 3:10 p.m. on January 28, the meeting was open to the public on January 29 from 8:30 a.m. to 11:56 a.m.

Council Members Present

Gail E. Besner, M.D.
Liza D. Cariaga-Lo, Ed.D.
Carmen W. Dessauer, Ph.D.
Henry T. Greely, J.D.
Alan (Rick) F. Horwitz, Ph.D.
Richard L. Lalonde, Pharm.D.
Holly A. Wichman, Ph.D.

Council Members Absent


Special Consultants Present

Bonnie Berger, Ph.D.
Professor of Mathematics
Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Cambridge, MA 02139

Kathleen Collins, Ph.D.
Walter and Ruth Schubert Family Chair
Professor of Biochemistry, Biophysics and Structural Biology
Department of Molecular and Cell Biology
University of California, Berkeley
Berkeley, CA 94720

Gregory C. Fu, Ph.D.
Altair Professor of Chemistry
Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering
California Institute of Technology
Pasadena, CA 91125

Samuel H. Gellman, Ph.D.
Ralph F. Hirschmann Professor of Chemistry
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Madison, WI 53706-1396

Sua Myong, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Thomas C. Jenkins Department of Biophysics
Johns Hopkins University
Baltimore, MD 21218

Mark Peifer, Ph.D.
Hooker Distinguished Professor
Department of Biology
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, NC 27599

Jean E. Schwarzbauer, Ph.D.
Eugene Higgins Professor of Molecular Biology
Associate Chair, Department of Molecular Biology
Princeton University
Princeton, NJ 08544

Sivaraj Sivaramakrishnan, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Department of Genetics, Cell Biology and Development
University of Minnesota, Twin Cities
Minneapolis, MN 55455

Janet L. Smith, Ph.D.
Margaret J. Hunter Collegiate Professor of Life Sciences
Professor of Biological Chemistry
Life Sciences Institute
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-2216

Michael F. Summers, Ph.D.
Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry
Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute
University of Maryland, Baltimore County
Baltimore, MD 21250

Wilfred A. van der Donk, Ph.D.
Richard E. Heckert Endowed Chair in Chemistry
Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Urbana, IL 61801

Council roster (available from NIGMS)

Members of the Public Present

Dr. Adam Fagen, Genetics Society of America
Dr. Sarah Martin, American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Dr. Andrew Mugler, Purdue University
Mark Nardone, Bio-Trac
Dr. Roland Nardone, consultant
Dr. Chloe Poston, Genetics Society of America
Dr. Desirée Salazar, American Society for Cell Biology
Dr. Yvette Seger, Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology

NIGMS and other NIH employees

Please see the sign-in sheet (available from NIGMS)

Other Federal Employees Present



I. Call to Order and Opening Remarks

Dr. Lorsch thanked the regular members of the Council who were present and introduced the special consultants. He then introduced and welcomed the guests in attendance.

II. Consideration of Minutes

The minutes of the September 17-18, 2015, meeting were approved as submitted.

III. Future Meeting Dates

The following dates for future Council meetings were confirmed:

May 19-20, 2016
September 15-16, 2016
January 26-27, 2017

IV. NIGMS Director's Report

[PDF, 1.1MB]

Dr. Lorsch thanked the Council for their continued service and the continued diligence of NIGMS staff. He updated the group on staff hires and departures at NIGMS and NIH. Dr. Lorsch recognized two long-time NIGMS grantees (Dr. Paul Modrich and Dr. Aziz Sancar) who were awarded the 2015 Nobel Prize in chemistry “for mechanistic studies of DNA repair.” He noted three recent Congressional events that spoke to the importance of basic research and informed the Council that the overall NIGMS budget allocation for FY 2016 increased by about 6 percent. Careful planning is underway to invest these additional funds in the most efficient, effective and sustainable manner. Dr. Lorsch then provided an update on the ongoing Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA) pilot programs (one each for established and early-stage investigators). The application pool for the established investigator cohort represented one-quarter of eligible PIs and mirrored the demographic distribution of the eligible PI pool. The Institute is currently assessing the pilots, including review of applications, submission timing and other aspects, with the intent to open MIRA to all NIGMS PIs next year. Finally, he highlighted NIGMS’ efforts to modernize graduate education and noted the Institute is planning a meeting on this topic on April 11, 2016.

Contact: Dr. Jon R. Lorsch,, 301-594-2172

V. Report: NIH Workshop on Reproducibility in Cell Culture Studies

The NIH Cell Line Authentication Committee (chaired by Dr. Lorsch and NHGRI Director Dr. Eric Green) hosted a workshop at NIH on September 28-29, 2015, that examined a wide range of issues related to the reproducibility of research using cultured cells. These included not only quality control and rigor, but also emerging technologies and future scientific directions. In addition to research practice and reporting, other topics of discussion included new approaches to understanding the characteristics and behaviors of cultured cells and technologies for enhancing their utility in research. Discussion also focused on nomenclature--encouraging distinction between use of the terms reproducibility, replicability and transparency--as well as on practical approaches to help biomedical scientists implement procedures in their own laboratories. New guidelines for including methods-related information in NIH grants have been posted. In attendance at the workshop were researchers from academia and industry, as well as agency staff from NIH, NIST, NSF, staff from other funders and foundations, and representatives of scientific journals and professional organizations. A comprehensive report with technical background and strategies for improving the rigor and reproducibility of research using cultured cells is in preparation and will be posted on the NIGMS website.

Discussants: NAGMS Council members Drs. Jean Schwarzbauer, Alan Rick Horwitz and Richard Lalonde
Contact: Dr. James Deatherage, 301-594-0828,

VI. Report and Concept Clearances for Improved Support of Technology Development at NIGMS

  • Exploratory Research for Development of New Technologies
  • Focused Technology Research and Development

NIGMS supports the development of technologies that advance biomedical research. Current NIGMS programs are subject to a strong tension between the need to support technology development and the imperative for immediate short-term payoff by applying those tools to biomedical research questions. This sometimes leads to a decreased risk tolerance and diminished focus on technology development. As reported by Dr. Doug Sheeley, the NIGMS Technology and Resources Implementation Group proposes two experimental initiatives for support of investigator-initiated technology development projects: Exploratory Research for Development of New Technologies and Focused Technology Research and Development. Each aims to stimulate early-stage technology development with broader latitude to focus on well-justified technology projects rather than application of those tools to biomedical research questions. Dr. Sheeley requested, and received, Council approval to proceed with the new initiatives.

Discussants: NAGMS Council members Drs. Carmen Dessauer, Alan Rick Horwitz, Janet Smith and Mark Peifer
Contact: Dr. Douglas Sheeley, 301-451-6446,

VII. Presentation: Analysis of the National Centers for Systems Biology Program

[PDF, 668KB]

The National Centers for Systems Biology (NCSB) program was established by NIGMS in 2002 to facilitate pioneering research in systems biology and to stimulate the field as a whole. In 2014, NIGMS initiated an analysis of the NCSB program to better understand whether the program has met its goals, to assess the program’s effectiveness in promoting systems biology research and to view the current state of maturity for systems biology as a field. Dr. Andrew Miklos of the NIGMS Office of Program Planning, Analysis, and Evaluation presented a brief overview of the types of data made available for consideration to the assessment panel of subject matter experts serving as a working group of Council.

Contact: Dr. Andrew Miklos, 301-451-4645,

VIII. Presentation: Assessment and Recommendations for the National Centers for Systems Biology

In December 2015, NIGMS convened a working group of Council to assess the success of the NCSB program and to provide recommendations on whether this mechanism is still needed, and if so, what adjustments might be made. Representing the panel, Dr. Rick Horwitz of the Allen Institute for Cell Science described the data and other information used to assess the program, which included an initial set of descriptive materials and quantitative data on the disciplinary reach of systems biology, as well as presentations from a set of NCSB grantees. The assessment panel requested additional quantitative data on productivity and impact, comparisons with other systems biology funding mechanisms and a census of NCSB-derived contributions. The panel concluded that systems biology is a potentially transformative field, just hitting its stride, and that the NCSB program excels at integrating research, training and outreach within the discipline. Dr. Horwitz stated that the panel recommends that systems biology be sustained through a center-like, inter-institutional mechanism; that funding should be reduced to match the number of highest quality applications; and that innovative combinations of training and outreach be encouraged to develop a workforce that would have an impact on other fields including translational medicine.

Contact: Dr. Alan Rick Horwitz, 206-548-7000,

IX. Presentation: Program Project Grant (P01) Analysis

Program project grants (P01s) are intended to fund several inter-related and synergistic research projects under the same grant to focus unique expertise and resources and ultimately achieve outcomes not attainable by funding the individual projects separately. Commensurate with the stewardship function outlined in the NIGMS Strategic P?lan, NIGMS conducted an analysis of the productivity, impact and collaborative network of P01s, using R01s and multi-PI R01s as comparators. Travis Dorsey of the NIGMS Office of Program Planning, Analysis, and Evaluation presented the findings of this study.

Contact: Mr. Travis Dorsey, 301-451-9846,

Presentation: X. Presentation: NIGMS MERIT Award Analysis

The MERIT award was established in 1985 by NIGMS to grant long-term stable support to distinctly superior investigators to foster creativity and decrease administrative burden. MERIT support intends to enable investigators to take greater risks, be more adventurous in their research or develop new techniques. NIGMS conducted an assessment of the MERIT award program to determine if the goals of this award mechanism are being accomplished. Dr. Jake Basson of the Office of Program Planning, Analysis, and Evaluation presented the results of this study.

Contact: Dr. Jake Basson, 301-451-7796,

XI. Public Comment Period

Dr. Adam Fagen, executive director of the Genetics Society of America (GSA), lauded NIGMS for its focus on data-driven approaches and for its dedication to good stewardship and efficient use of public funds. He directed Council members to the GSA blog Genes to Genomes; noted continued investment in educational materials about model organisms in biomedical research; and reminded the Council about the upcoming meeting: The Allied Genetics Conference, to be held July 13-17, 2016, in Orlando, Florida.

Dr. Yvette Seger, director of science policy at the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB), recognized NIH’s Rigor and Reproducibility initiative, highlighting two FASEB focus areas: mouse models in research and research antibodies. She also noted that FASEB has been working with other societies on improving the meeting travel situation for federal employees.


A summary of applications reviewed by the Council is available from NIGMS.


The meeting adjourned at 11:56 a.m. on January 29, 2016.


I hereby certify that to my knowledge the foregoing minutes are accurate and complete.

Jon R. Lorsch, Ph.D.
National Advisory General Medical Sciences Council
Ann A. Hagan, Ph.D
Executive Secretary
National Advisory General Medical Sciences Council