Advances made with institute support include:
- Discovering a gene-silencing process called RNA interference, or RNAi, that is both a powerful research tool and a promising approach for treating diseases.
- Revealing how a protein’s shape affects its function, which plays a key role in health and disease and also informs the design of new drugs.
- Increasing survival from burn injury, in part by improving methods of wound care, nutrition and infection control.
- Explaining how genes affect the way a person responds to drugs, including those to treat cancer and prevent blood clots.
- Shedding light on the critical functions of carbohydrates, sugar molecules found on all living cells that are vital to fertilization, inflammation, blood clotting and viral infection.
- Modeling infectious disease outbreaks and the impact of interventions through computer simulations, providing valuable information to public health policymakers.
- Developing new methods to look inside cells and other living systems.
|Acting NIGMS director Dr. Judith Greenberg (l) and NIGMS-supported Nobel laureates pose at a May event sponsored by FASEB to mark its 100th anniversary and NIGMS’s 50th anniversary. The Nobelists are (starting second from l) Dr. Roderick MacKinnon, Rockefeller University; Dr. Andrew Fire, Stanford University School of Medicine; and Dr. Thomas Cech, University of Colorado, Boulder.
Now an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Elizabeth Grice was a postdoctoral fellow in the NIGMS Pharmacology Research Associate Program. While in this program, she conducted research on the skin microbiome in an NHGRI lab.
The institute devotes most of its funds to investigator-initiated research grants in cell biology, biophysics, genetics, developmental biology, chemistry, pharmacology, computational biology and other fields. It also funds a limited number of research center grants in such areas as structural biology, chemistry, computational modeling, trauma and burn research, systems biology and biomedical technology. The important scientific resources it supports include the NIGMS Human Genetic Cell Repository and the Protein Data Bank.
|Fast Facts About NIGMS
• Budget: $2.4 billion, fourth largest at NIH
• Number of research grants: about 4,700
• Number of trainees: more than 4,300, about a quarter of the NIH total
• Number of Nobel laureates: 74, more than half of the NIH total; see www.nigms.nih.gov/GMNobelists.htm for a list.
• 50th anniversary web site: www.nigms.nih.gov/About/50Anniversary/
|Distinguished Recent Directors
Dr. Ruth Kirschstein, 1974-1993
The longest-serving NIGMS director and the first woman to lead an NIH institute, she played a key role in shaping the institute’s basic research and training mission.
Dr. Marvin Cassman, 1993-2002 (acting 1993-1996)
Under Cassman’s leadership, NIGMS launched several major programs, including the Protein Structure Initiative and the Pharmacogenomics Research Network.
|Dr. Jeremy Berg, 2003-2011
Berg promoted communication, transparency and dialogue with the scientific community through the Feedback Loop blog and other outreach efforts.
Dr. Judith Greenberg (acting), 2002-2003 and 2011-present
Greenberg oversaw the development of the institute’s strategic plan issued in 2008 and its strategic plan for research training in 2011. She also led the NIH Director’s Pioneer and New Innovator award programs.
|Dr. Richard Okita, one
of the employees who participated
in the NIGMS blood
drive in April, displays the flyer
promoting the activity while
making his donation.
The Biomedical Technology Research Center program,
which was recently transferred to NIGMS
from NCRR, marks its own 50th anniversary this
year. The program has been responsible for harnessing
technologies from the physical sciences—
such as laboratory computers, synchrotron
radiation, magnetic spin resonance and mass spectrometry—
for use in biomedical research.
Commitment to Training, Workforce
Development and Diversity
NIGMS has a longstanding commitment to training
the next generation of scientists. Its programs
stress approaches that cut across disciplinary and
departmental lines to prepare trainees for creative
research careers in a variety of areas.
Some, like the Medical Scientist Training Program,
address particularly compelling needs—in
this case, for investigators who hold the combined
M.D.-Ph.D. degree and are well trained in basic science
and clinical research. Others train scientists to
conduct research in rapidly growing areas like biotechnology
or at the interfaces between fields such
as chemistry and biology or behavioral and biomedical
The institute also has a Pharmacology Research
Associate Program—its only intramural activity—
in which postdoctoral scientists with an interest in
pharmacology or related sciences conduct research
in NIH or FDA labs.
Integral to NIGMS’s workforce development
efforts is its dedication to increasing diversity. Two
NIGMS programs focused on this goal—the Minority
Access to Research Careers program and the
Minority Biomedical Research Support program—
are marking their 40th anniversaries this year.
The most recent addition
to NIGMS’s activities in
this area is the Institutional
(IDeA) program, which
builds research capacities
in states that historically
have had low levels of NIH
funding. Formerly administered
by NCRR, IDeA
supports basic, clinical
and translational research;
faculty development; and
in 23 states and
Marking the Milestone
One way that NIGMS is
marking its golden anniversary
is by sponsoring
symposia and other activities at scientific meetings.
These range from a day-long symposium at
the American Chemical Society’s national meeting
to student poster awards at the annual Biomedical
Research Conference for Minority Students
and the annual meeting of the Society for
Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans
On Oct. 17, the institute will hold a special 50th
anniversary DeWitt Stetten, Jr., Symposium
with a trio of speakers who reflect the breadth
of its mission. The event will also feature presentations
by a dozen poster award winners.
As an expression of its interest in science education,
NIGMS will host Cell Day, an interactive
web chat room modeled on NHGRI’s DNA Day.
During the Nov. 2 event, NIGMS scientists will
answer middle and high school students’ questions
about cell biology and research careers.
NIGMS staff members have chosen the 50th
anniversary as a time to give back to the community.
In April, the institute sponsored a
week-long blood drive, with donations going to
the NIH Blood Bank. And in June, staff collected
and delivered nonperishable food items to
the Edmond J. Safra Family Lodge.
As NIGMS reflects on its progress over the past
five decades, it also looks forward. “Our challenge
for the future is to continue to attract and train
the best minds and to champion their unfettered
creativity,” says acting NIGMS director Dr. Judith
Greenberg. “And if we do that, we can expect
spectacular discoveries ahead.”