The pace of discoveries coming out of NIH these days is often
hard to get your mind around. Those of us in offices here tend
to get lost in conflict of interest issues, budget cuts and ethics
problems. Even those at the bench can lose sight of the big picture.
It's easy to lose perspective. People working in one field barely
hear about accomplishments in others. Just in the past couple of
weeks, we've seen a new vaccine for shingles, the finding that
genetic variations affect your response to warfarin (a common anti-clotting
drug), and the discovery of a link between complement factor H
and age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness
in people over 60. These are only the tip of the iceberg.
New large-scale research tools are bringing discoveries faster
by the day. For example, at a recent Wednesday Afternoon Lecture,
Dr. Stuart L. Schreiber from Harvard spoke about using chemical
libraries of small molecules to dissect biological processes and
identify new drug targets. He described ChemBank, a database supported
by NCI's Initiative for Chemical Genetics that has structures for
more than 1.1 million compounds, 150,000 of which are commercially
available, and biological activity data for over 6,300 known bioactive
compounds (http://chembank.broad.harvard.edu/). PubChem, part of
the molecular libraries Roadmap initiative, is another massive
collection of chemical structure and screening data (http://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/).
Genomics (and all the related "-omics"), 3-D protein structure
databases, high-throughput screening and countless other new tools
and approaches are ushering in a scale of research far beyond what
most scientists imagined a decade ago. NHGRI recently announced
that it has selected the next 13 organisms for genomic sequencing.
Those are only the latest; there are already several completed
and a slew more in progress (check out http://www.genome.gov/10002154).
This column will try to highlight some of the interesting scientific
developments at NIH. If you know of items we should include, write
to firstname.lastname@example.org or call (301) 435-7489.