Advisory Council Minutes, May 20-21, 2010

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The National Advisory General Medical Sciences (NAGMS) Council was convened in closed session for its one hundred forty-third meeting at 8:30 a.m. on Thursday, May 20, 2010.

Dr. Jeremy Berg, director of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), presided as chair of the meeting. After a closed session from 8:30 a.m. to 5:48 p.m. on May 20, the meeting was open to the public on May 21 from 8:35 a.m. to 12:58 p.m.

Council Members Present:

Carolyn R. Bertozzi, Ph.D.
Michael D. Caldwell, M.D., Ph.D.
Mariano Garcia-Blanco, M.D., Ph.D.
Howard H. Garrison, Ph.D.
Clifford W. Houston, Ph.D.
John E. Johnson, Ph.D.
Jeffrey Mason, Ph.D.
W. James Nelson, Ph.D.
Alejandro Sanchez Alvarado, Ph.D.
James L. Stevens, Ph.D.

Members Absent:

Steven L. McKnight, Ph.D.
Robert F. Murphy, Ph.D.

Special Consultants Present:

Paul D. Adams, Ph.D.
Acting Director, Physical Bioscience Division
Senior Scientist, Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory
Adjunct Professor, Department of Engineering
University of California, Berkeley
Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory
Berkeley, CA 94720

Karen S. Anderson, Ph.D.
Department of Pharmacology
Yale University School of Medicine
New Haven, CT 06520

Tania Baker, Ph.D.
E.C. Whitehead Professor of Biology
Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Cambridge, MA 02139

Bonnie Berger, Ph.D.
Department of Mathematics
Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Cambridge, MA 02139

Luisa DiPietro, D.D.S., Ph.D.
Professor, Department of Periodontics
Director, Center for Wound Healing and Tissue Regeneration
University of Illinois at Chicago
College of Dentistry
Chicago, IL 60612-7211

Steve A. Kay, Ph.D.
Dean and Richard C. Atkinson Chair
Division of Biological Sciences
University of California, San Diego
La Jolla, CA 92093-0376

Gary Marchant, Ph.D., J.D.
Lincoln Professor of Emerging Technologies, Law, and Ethics
Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law
Executive Director, Center for Law, Science and Innovation
Professor, School of Life Sciences
Arizona State University
Tempe, AZ 85287-7906

John Keith Moffat, Ph.D.
Deputy Provost for Research
Professor, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
University of Chicago
Chicago, IL 60637

Ron Stenkamp, Ph.D.
Professor, Department of Biological Structure
Professor, Department of Biochemistry
University of Washington
Seattle, WA 98195

Council roster (available from NIGMS).

Members of the Public Present:

Dr. Robert Berendt, Berendt Associates
Dr. Thomas Kodadek, Scripps Research Institute
Dr. Sherry Marts, Genetics Society of America
Dr. Caroline Trupp Gil, American Chemical Society
Mr. Ted Shoneck, Tunnell Government Services
Dr. Michelle Rodrigues, SRI

Federal Employees Present:

Dr. Richard Rodewald, National Science Foundation

NIGMS and other NIH employees:

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


I. Call to Order and Opening Remarks

Dr. Berg thanked the regular members of the Council who were present and then introduced the special consultants: Paul D. Adams, Ph.D., senior scientist, Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory; Karen S. Anderson, Ph.D., professor, Department of Pharmacology, Yale University School of Medicine; Tania Baker, Ph.D., professor, Department of Biology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Bonnie Berger, Ph.D., professor, Department of Mathematics Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Luisa DiPietro, D.D.S., Ph.D., professor, Department of Periodontics, University of Illinois at Chicago; Steve A. Kay, Ph.D., dean, Division of Biological Sciences, University of California, San Diego; Gary Marchant, Ph.D., J.D., professor, School of Life Sciences, Arizona State University; John Keith Moffatt, Ph.D., professor, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Chicago; and Ron Stenkamp, Ph.D., professor, Department of Biological Structure, University of Washington. Dr. Berg then introduced and welcomed the guests in attendance.

II. Consideration of Minutes

The minutes of the January 21-22, 2010, meeting were approved as submitted.

III. Future Meeting Dates

The following dates for future Council meetings were confirmed:

September 20-21, 2010
January 27-28, 2011
May 19-20, 2011

IV. Report from the Director, NIGMS

Dr. Berg announced the appointment of Harold Varmus, M.D., as the director of the National Cancer Institute. He noted that Dr. Varmus had most recently been president of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and, previously, had been director of the NIH. He also announced the appointment of Pat White, currently a senior official at the American Association of Universities, as NIH associate director for legislative policy and analysis. He also noted the departures of Raynard Kington, M.D., Ph.D., from his position as principal deputy director to become president of Grinnell College and Lana Skirboll, Ph.D., from her position as director of the Office of Science Policy to join the Zerhouni Group.

Within the Department of Health and Human Services, Dr. Berg noted the nomination of Donald Berwick, M.D., to be administrator of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Within NIGMS, Dr. Berg announced the appointment of Stephen Marcus, Ph.D., as a program director in the Center for Bioinformatics and Computational Biology with a focus on modeling social behavior. He also noted that John Whitmarsh, Ph.D., special assistant to the director, would be retiring before the next Council meeting.

Dr. Berg described the recently held symposium honoring the memory of Ruth L. Kirschstein, M.D. He indicated how moving the comments were about how Dr. Kirschstein had significantly influenced the lives of so many people from members of Congress, to NIH staff at many levels, to trainees from around the country. He noted how uniform different people's reaction to Dr. Kirschstein was, regardless of their relationship to her, with strong senses of her integrity, commitment and caring. He revealed that the main auditorium in the Natcher Conference Center had been renamed in Dr. Kirschstein's honor.

Dr. Berg then described an ongoing study of the relationship between the level of funding to a given investigator and the productivity of that investigator indicated by the number of publications and the overall impact factor for the journals in which that investigator published. He noted that, not surprisingly, there is a large amount of variability from one investigator to the next, but also trends are present with productivity increasing with increased funding, but then appearing to plateau. He noted that the analysis was still ongoing.

Finally, Dr. Berg mentioned several activities related to training and career development. He noted that the NIGMS Strategic Plan on Training and Workforce Development was moving through its data collection phase. He also mentioned a recent workshop that was held at NIH on programs that support scientists directly out of their Ph.D. or M.D. programs and into independent research positions.

V. Update from the NIH Director

NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins introduced himself to the Council and thanked Dr. Berg for his valued leadership at NIGMS and within NIH. Dr. Collins pointed to the importance of NIGMS' role in fundamental science discovery, but also noted that it is essential that NIH continue to strive to apply the fruits of these discoveries to health improvement. He urged the scientific community to make the case that NIH is an important public investment locally, in their home states and institutions.

Contact: Dr. Francis Collins,, 301-496-2433

VI. Concept Clearance: Natural Products Discovery and Biological Studies of Natural Products

Organisms ranging from bacteria to eukaryotes like marine invertebrates and higher plants have evolved pathways to produce biologically active small molecules with unimaginable diversity. Although some of these substances have been developed into biological probes and/or FDA-approved therapeutic drugs, thus far, only a tiny fraction of all natural products have been discovered and/or thoroughly evaluated for their biological properties and potential medical utility. Dr. John Schwab presented a proposal for investigators to solicit research grants (R01s) and competing revisions (supplements) toward the discovery, biological study and synthesis of natural products. Dr. Schwab requested, and received, Council approval to solicit applications for research in this area, on the condition that the solicitation contains appropriate language assuring that submitted proposals consider biomedical relevance in their pursuit to expand chemical space and are open to both biologists and chemists.

Contact: Dr. John Schwab,, 301-594-3827

VII. Concept Clearance: Program Projects for Collaborative Research on the Basic Biology of Pluripotency and Reprogramming

The 2006 discovery that induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells) could be generated by reprogramming non-embryonic cells was a major breakthrough, introducing important new scientific opportunities. Understanding the fundamental properties of both iPS and embryonic stem cells will provide important insights into embryonic development and will lay the groundwork for future clinical applications of these cells. Dr. Susan Haynes presented a proposed Request for Applications for Program Project (P01) grants focused on the basic biology of pluripotency and reprogramming. Dr. Haynes requested, and received, Council approval for this initiative, on the condition that NIGMS staff consider the use of multiple funding mechanisms (e.g., R01s, co-PI R01s and P01s).

Contacts: Dr. Susan Haynes,, 301-594-0943, Dr. Marion Zatz,, 301-594-0943

VIII. Concept Clearance: Limited Pilot for Community-Wide Scientific Resources

Resources that are valuable to a larger scientific community are often produced as part of NIGMS-supported research efforts that have a limited timeframe. Dr. Rochelle Long, on behalf of an NIGMS committee representing the Institute's scientific divisions, described a limited pilot program to extend the life of these "legacy activities." Examples include databases, software, repositories, organisms, banks, libraries, research tools and methods (computational, physical or both). The proposed program would use a flexible funding mechanism to support continuation of existing resources, but not to develop new ones. Dr. Long requested, and received, Council approval for this initiative.

Contacts: Dr. Ann Hagan,, 301-594-4499; Dr. Rochelle Long,, 301-594-3827

IX. Update: Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students

In 2000, the American Society for Microbiology entered into an agreement with NIGMS to sponsor a national conference to encourage undergraduate students to pursue advanced training and careers in the biomedical and behavioral sciences, and to provide faculty resources for facilitating student success. Conference attendance has grown substantially over the years, especially among students and faculty from underrepresented groups and minority-serving institutions. Dr. Clifford Houston of the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston discussed the conference project, noting that a current focus is to prepare students for educational transitions, as well as for the evolving and interdisciplinary nature of biomedical and behavioral sciences research careers. More information.

Contact: Dr. Clifford W. Houston,, 409-772-0896

X. Mentoring Workshop for Assistant Professors of Chemistry

Fifteen years ago, the success rate of NIH grant submissions from young organic chemists had reached a dangerously low level (under 5 percent). Reviewers noted that an unacceptably large proportion of applications from early stage investigators in this field fell prey to a wide range of serious, yet preventable, mistakes, some of which likely resulted from inconsistent and often insufficient mentorship of these talented young investigators within their home institutions. A few years ago, to address this problem, NIGMS staff and the organic chemistry community organized an intensive two- to three-day workshop. The investment continues to be supported via an NIGMS U13 conference grant funding mechanism. Dr. Thomas Kodadek of Scripps Research Institute, Florida, described the goals, structure and outcomes of this successful workshop series.

Contact: Dr. Thomas Kodadek,, 561-228-2461

XI. Report: Advancing Biomedical Research Workforce Diversity: NIGMS Workshop for Postdocs Transitioning to Independent Positions

The transition from being a postdoc to holding an independent position is a challenging one, and especially so for young investigators who are members of groups that are underrepresented in the biomedical or behavioral sciences. On March 11-12, 2010, a diverse group of 150 postdocs who will soon begin seeking their first independent positions gathered at NIH for the NIGMS "Workshop for Postdocs Transitioning to Independent Positions." Dr. Judith Greenberg, who chaired the NIGMS committee that organized the event, summarized the workshop, which was rated highly by attendees. For more information and to view an archived video of the entire workshop.

Contact: Dr. Judith Greenberg,, 301-594-0943

XII. Chemical Tools to Monitor and Manipulate the Immune System

Adaptive immune responses trigger amplification of antigen-specific antibodies and T cells. Although antigen-specific antibodies may seem excellent serum biomarkers for various different disease states, in many cases, these antigens remain unidentified and uncharacterized. Dr. Thomas Kodadek of Scripps Research Institute, Florida, presented a general and unbiased approach to detect IgG antibodies tightly linked with a particular disease state. The strategy employs a novel chemical library screening technology that identifies compounds capable of capturing antibodies that are present at far higher levels in patients with the disease of interest than in matched controls. Dr. Kodadek noted that this technology has recently led to the development of a simple blood test for Alzheimer's disease. Preliminary work on the diagnosis of a variety of other diseases, including lung cancer, appears promising, he noted.

Contact: Dr. Thomas Kodadek,, 561-228-2461


XIV. Review of Applications

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


The meeting adjourned at 12:50 p.m. on May 21, 2010.


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

Jeremy M. Berg, Ph.D.
National Advisory General Medical Sciences Council
Ann A. Hagan, Ph.D
Executive Secretary National Advisory General Medical Sciences Council