Those coming to see Tom Cruise's breakthrough film might have been
disappointed, but it's safe to say most of the attendees at the jam-packed
opening session of the NIH Research Festival had no confusion about
the name and thoroughly enjoyed NIH's version of "Risky Business." Following
on the heels of the first annual Pioneer Award Symposium highlighting
the NIH Roadmap's high-risk, high-reward approach, the festival's
Oct. 18 opening session demonstrated how NIH's intramural program
has long incubated researchers pursuing such research. NIH director
Dr. Elias Zerhouni followed four researchers' talks by discussing
his perspective on the intramural research program, including its
|Dr. Susan Buchanan
The first speaker, Dr. Susan Buchanan of NIDDK, detailed her investigations
into the transport of molecules across bacterial outer membranes.
She explained that outer membrane proteins may make good vaccine
and drug targets since they are surface-accessible, antigenic and
often unique to bacteria.
Dr. Shiv Grewal of NCI spoke about the hot topic of RNA interference
and its role in gene regulation; recent work by his laboratory was
named a "Breakthrough of the Year" by Science magazine.
Dr. Orna Cohen-Fix of NIDDK explained her studies of why the nucleus
is round — a question that may seem simple on its surface but
that requires an inventive approach to answer. She demonstrated that
the shape of the nucleus is a function of the nuclear membrane itself,
not the DNA within.
Finally, Dr. Mark Gladwin of NHLBI outlined new thinking about the
role of nitrite in the regulation of vasodilation. He described tantalizing
new evidence that nitrite, which is considerably less expensive than
nitric oxide, may prove to be an effective therapeutic in itself
for regulating vascular homeostasis in diseases like pulmonary hypertension
and sickle cell disease.
Dr. Robert Balaban
Dr. Sheldon Miller of NEI
Zerhouni put the talks in context by giving his broad impressions
of the IRP's past and future promise. He began by showing a slide
representing scattered small islands of knowledge in a sea of information. "What
is the strategy that works best to discover those islands of knowledge?" he
His answer: "If you don't know what's out there, the best strategy
is to send out explorers in multiple directions. That's been the
approach of the IRP. The more you send out, the more likely one of
them is to hit an island of knowledge." He added, "This has been
the strength of the IRP."
| || ||
||Festival co-chair Dr. Bob Wenthold
of NIDCD, Dr. Mark Gladwin of NHLBI and Dr. Shiv Grewal of
Only in the IRP, Zerhouni noted, can you continue an inventive line
of research for multiple years. Also unique to the IRP is the ability
for researchers to change directions, as Cohen-Fix showed in freely
moving from cell cycle studies to investigations into the shape of
||Dr. Ira Levin of NIDDK
Zerhouni pointed out that as we get to know more of those islands,
different strategies are also needed. As more about a field of science
becomes known, we can do a better job of predicting where the next
discoveries will be, he said. Larger efforts in certain research
directions — armadas, to stretch the analogy — start
to become fruitful, whereas before they may have cast too many resources
in the wrong direction.
|Dr. Orna Cohen-Fix of NIDDK
Research is also becoming considerably more complex, Zerhouni noted.
Researchers in disparate fields are now building bridges between
islands that once seemed far apart. One of NIH's top priorities will
be to take a leading role in removing barriers to collaboration to
allow larger, more diverse research teams to work together productively.
||NIH director Dr. Elias Zerhouni
opens Research Festival 2005
He described NIH's efforts to strengthen the transition from bench
to bedside to make sure that we quickly take advantage of breakthroughs
when they occur. He also mentioned the importance of helping investigators
early in their careers.
As for the next scientific frontier, Zerhouni said that the first
priority for NIH will be to help usher in an era of quantitative
biological measurements. Rob Phillips, a Pioneer Award recipient,
had spoken at the awards symposium about his hope for transforming
an empirical understanding of biological events into a quantitative
understanding. It is this vision that NIH needs to promote, argued
|Dr. Doug Lowy of NCI
But whatever changes come to NIH's research portfolio, Zerhouni
stressed that the IRP is unique. It has a special family sense, he
said, and we need to continue exploration in multiple directions.
He said that as NIH formulated the Roadmap, the IRP was something
of a model. The IRP gives researchers "incubator space" for the type
of high-risk, high-impact research that NIH wants to encourage more
of throughout its research portfolio.