Advisory Council Minutes, May 9-10, 2002

The National Advisory General Medical Sciences (NAGMS) Council was convened in closed session for its one-hundred and nineteenth meeting at 8:30 a.m. on Thursday, May 9, 2002.

Dr. Judith Greenberg, acting director of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), presided as chair of the meeting. The meeting was open to the public on May 9 from 10:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. and was followed by the closed session for consideration of grant applications.

Council Members Present:

John N. Abelson, Ph.D.
Jay C. Dunlap, Ph.D.
Ira Herskowitz, Ph.D.
George C. Hill, Ph.D.
Corey Largman, Ph.D.
Eaton E. Lattman, Ph.D.
Douglas A. Lauffenburger, Ph.D.
Angeline A. Lazarus, M.D.
Leslie A. Leinwand, Ph.D.
Robert S. Pozos, Ph.D.
Laura Roberts, M.D.
Debra A. Schwinn, M.D.
Susan S. Taylor, Ph.D.
D. Amy Trainor, Ph.D.
Isiah M. Warner, Ph.D.
Richard M. Weinshilboum, M.D.

Members Absent:


Special Consultants Present:

Frank Raushel, Ph.D.
Department of Chemistry
Texas A&M University
College Station, TX

Council roster (available from NIGMS).

Members of the Public Present:

Ms. Pamela Moore, Capitol Publications
Ms. Nancy Moy, SRI
Dr. Georgia Persinos, PG Associates

Federal Employees Present:

NIGMS employees and other NIH employees:

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


I. Call to Order and Opening Remarks

Dr. Judith Greenberg called the meeting to order. She introduced and welcomed the guests and one ad hoc participant: Dr. Frank Raushel, professor, Department of Chemistry, Texas A&M University.

II. Consideration of Minutes

The minutes of the January 24-25, 2002 meeting were approved as submitted.

III. Future Meeting Dates

The following dates for future Council meetings were confirmed:

September 12-13, 2002
January 23-24, 2003
May 15-16, 2003
September 11-12, 2003

IV. Report from the Acting Director, NIGMS: Status of Appropriations and Other Matters

Dr. Greenberg reported on recent changes at NIH. These include the retirement of Dr. Cassman, director of NIGMS. Dr. Greenberg emphasized how much the entire NIGMS staff would miss him. She also announced that Dr. Elias Zerhouni's nomination to become director of NIH had been confirmed and that he would be sworn in within the next week or two. Dr. Rodric Pettigrew has been appointed to head the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering.

Dr. Greenberg notified the Council about the new loan repayment program for clinical researchers, which pays up to $35,000 of educational loan debt for each year a person conducts clinical research. Ten of the applications that NIH received have been assigned to NIGMS and will be reviewed in June. The Council will be informed about the outcomes at the September meeting.

The Council concurred with the proposal that NIGMS staff will report, on a yearly basis during the open session of Council, on the Institute's large initiatives, such as the Pharmacogenetics Network and Knowledge Base, the Protein Structure Initiative, and large glue grants, unless something unusual arises that requires Council attention.

Dr. Greenberg gave a brief update on the status of the appropriation for FY 2003, the last year of the anticipated 5-year budget doubling for NIH. The President's budget for NIGMS is $1.88 billion, which represents an increase of 9 percent over that of FY 2002. This level of funding would enable NIGMS to pay a total of 4,061 grants of which 1,086 would be competing awards, and would represent a success rate of over 30 percent. This compares to 1,012 competing awards for FY 2002 and 972 for FY 2001. Action by the House and Senate is not likely to occur until the fall.

Remarks of Dr. Ruth Kirschstein, Acting Director, NIH

Dr. Ruth Kirschstein, acting director, NIH, described the process by which the search is being conducted for a new director of NIGMS. The search committee is chaired by Dr. Allen Spiegel, director, NIDDK; and Dr. Michael Gottesman, deputy director for intramural research, NIH; and is composed of several staff from NIH as well as extramural researchers, virtually all of whom are present or past members of the Council. Dr. Kirschstein expects that candidate interviews could begin as early as the end of July.

V. NIGMS Financial Management Strategy

Each fiscal year, NIGMS establishes funding policies designed to honor its commitments for ongoing grants while also sustaining a vigorous portfolio of new and competing continuation awards. Dr. James Onken provided an overview of the major components of the NIGMS research budget, the factors that influence the development of NIGMS' financial management strategy, some of the tools that NIGMS uses to analyze the implications of its policies, and a summary of NIGMS' current financial management strategy for FY 2002. These policies address growth in the average size of NIGMS research project grants, application success rates, and commitment management--a new funding policy implemented for the remainder of FY 2002 (see Report of the Director, NIGMS from the minutes of the January 2002 Council meeting). A summary of the NIGMS financial management strategy for FY 2002 was posted at /funding/pages/fy2002strategy.aspx.

VI. MORE Concept Clearance

Dr. Clifton Poodry of the NIGMS Division of Minority Opportunities in Research sought Council's approval to initiate a project to generate information that will help in the design and implementation of programs that will be effective in increasing the number of underrepresented minority scientists.

Many of the interventions to increase the number of minorities in research are based more on intuition than data. What has been enlightening are the few cases where people have actually done research to test assumptions and to ascertain whether those assumptions are valid. Dr. Poodry explained that the MORE Division is interested in obtaining evidence of successful strategies that support the kinds of programs that the Division funds. Questions of interest include:

  • Are there specific behaviors associated with success in the sciences, and are those behaviors teachable?
  • What interventions lead to behavioral changes that help students and, in particular, minority students, become more competitive?
  • How important is it for undergraduate training that a research mentor have a funded project with a record of publication?
  • Does remediation work, and if so, what are the constraints?
  • How can we measure the value-added of various interventions?
  • At the graduate level, is there a difference in training outcomes among training grants, fellowships, and minority supplements?

Dr. Poodry proposed an initiative to support basic research in these areas. The eligibility to apply for grants in these areas, however, would not be limited to minority institutions or to MORE-funded programs, but would be open to all the investigators. The Council unanimously approved the concept.

VII. SBIR Contract Solicitation for Distribution of Polyclonal Antibodies

Dr. Laurie Tompkins of the NIGMS Division of Genetics and Developmental Biology requested concept clearance to solicit Phase I SBIR contract proposals (maximum $100,000 total costs for 6 months) to acquire, and make available to researchers for purchase, polyclonal antibodies raised against identified proteins from non-mammalian eukaryotes that are used as model systems for biomedical research. Examples of such organisms include, but are not limited to, zebrafish, Drosophila melanogaster, Caenorhabditis elegans, Neurospora, and baker's yeast. NIGMS anticipates funding one contract in FY 2003. The rationale for the contract solicitation is that NIGMS funds many investigators who work with non-mammalian eukaryotic model systems, an ever-increasing number of whom use monoclonal and polyclonal antibodies in their research. Monoclonal antibodies can be purchased at reasonable cost, but there is no commercial source for most of the widely used polyclonal antibodies. Laboratories in which popular antibodies are being generated may receive hundreds of requests per year and spend a substantial amount of time responding to them. Investigators who want to use polyclonal antibodies must take time to track down the source of each antibody they need and contend with inconsistencies in quality control, documentation, and the speed at which requests are filled. A centralized commercial source to which investigators could donate polyclonal antibodies that they generate and from which users could purchase high-quality, well-described antibodies at reasonable cost, would benefit the ever-increasing number of investigators who generate and use antibodies in their research.

Following a brief discussion of the advantages of using SBIR funds to establish facilities for centralized distribution of resources, the rationale for limiting the solicitation to non-mammalian antibodies, and the difference between Phase I and Phase II SBIR funding, the Council approved the Phase I SBIR contract concept.

VIII. Early Concurrence Module of the Electronic Council Book

Dr. Thor Fjellstedt, special advisor to the director, Office of Extramural Research, demonstrated the operation of the Early Council Concurrence Module of the Electronic Council Book (ECB). Using this module, Council members will be able to register their responses for expedited review of NIGMS-assigned R01 applications that scored better than the 18th percentile. This process will allow NIH staff to obtain concurrences more easily. During the ensuing discussion, several members suggested that it would be helpful to have an application disappear from their assigned list once they have voted on it.

IX. Protein Structure Initiative: Update on Plans

Dr. John Norvell of the NIGMS Division of Cell Biology and Biophysics described the NIGMS Protein Structure Initiative (PSI), which began in 1999 with the goal of developing a national support program for the emerging field of structural genomics. This initiative resulted in part from recommendations made at three NIGMS-sponsored workshops. It is designed to organize a cooperative, large-scale effort for high throughput determination of new and unique proteins to extend coverage of structures to all proteins in nature. Research centers will serve as pilots to test strategies for the subsequent phase--the large-scale research networks of 2005. The Institute has funded nine PSI research centers beginning in 2000 and 2001, costing a total of $40 million annually. Background information, summaries of the workshops, and the program announcements can be found on the NIGMS web site at Protein Structure Initiative. The nine research centers have made impressive starts at developing the structural genomics pipeline--identifying protein targets and undertaking all the experimental steps that lead from the DNA sequence to a high resolution structure. This has involved hiring staff, acquiring robotic equipment, and developing a high level of organization of the many component parts. Presentations by the centers at several national meetings have been outstanding and well received by the scientific community.

The Institute is planning several activities to help these nine research centers develop their full capability as pilot research centers. These include support of a target registration web site, coordination of an electronic publications system, and the possible development of a materials storage bank and an experimental database for results on protein production and crystallization. In addition, NIGMS organized two workshops on bottlenecks in the field--the first in November 2001 covering all structural genomics components and the second in March 2002 on protein production. During the latter meeting, staff of the nine centers exchanged ideas and experiences on this key and difficult component. The NIGMS created the Protein Structure Initiative Advisory Committee (PSIAC), a working group of Council to assist Council and staff in overseeing the PSI program and in planning the subsequent PSI production phase. During the coming year, NIGMS will support workshops on data management, diffraction techniques, NMR techniques, and a second meeting on protein production.

The Institute will provide administrative supplements to the research centers this year to support increased automation of the various tasks in the structural genomics pipeline. In early 2003, the PSIAC will conduct a progress assessment of the nine research centers, including site visits to all the centers. If the FY 2003 budget permits, the Institute will make further administrative supplements available to increase the level of operation of the centers. Decisions on the amounts of the FY 2003 administrative supplemental awards will be made following recommendations by the PSIAC members and Council discussion at the May 2003 Council meeting. NIGMS staff are working with the PSIAC to develop a 5-year plan for the PSI. Quantitative measures of the costs and efficiency will be examined, as well as the scientific impact of the protein structures that are being determined. These results will be crucial in planning for the organization of the production phase. This phase will begin in 2005, and is anticipated to require a substantial increase in funding.

Dr. Lattman described the vigor, creativity, variety, and enthusiasm of these structural genomics research centers. He also pointed out the benefits of the robotic equipment and software for all structural biologists, and asked the Institute to consider allocation of some fraction of the time at future PSI facilities to general users. Other Council members commented on the progress of the research centers, the duties of the PSIAC, and the various workshops. The Council concurred with the staff plans for the PSI.


X. Review of Applications

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


The meeting adjourned at noon on Friday, May 10, 2002.


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

Judith H. Greenberg, Ph.D.
Acting Chair
National Advisory General
Medical Sciences Council
Norka Ruiz Bravo, Ph.D.
Executive Secretary
National Advisory General
Medical Sciences Council