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Vol. LVII, No. 13
July 1, 2005
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Keeping Things in Perspective

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 weinh@od.nih.gov or call (301) 435-7489.