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Vol. LXV, No. 1
January 4, 2013
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ACD Workgroup Reports To Receive ‘Muscular’ NIH Response

On the front page...

NIH director Dr. Francis Collins (l) speaks with ACD member Dr. Reed Tuckson.

NIH director Dr. Francis Collins (l) speaks with ACD member Dr. Reed Tuckson.

NIH plans to respond emphatically to recommendations made last June by three working groups that report to the advisory committee to the NIH director (ACD). NIH’s responses received a spirited reception at the Dec. 6-7, 2012, ACD meeting and will rely substantially, at a time of budget constraints, on the resources of the Common Fund.

“These are quite muscular responses,” Collins told the 105th gathering of the ACD

Continued...

Two of the groups dovetail, focusing on the size, sustainability and diversity of the biomedical research workforce, while the third, on Big Data, foresees a need to create a new leadership position to oversee a management enterprise to harness the value of biomedical research data.

“We estimate the average yearly support over the initial 5-7 years of the [Big Data] programs to be about $125 million,” said NIH principal deputy director Dr. Lawrence Tabak.

Generating the most passion around the table were the implementation plans on diversity; in addition to concerns with being fair, NIH is determined not to lose out on the intellectual contributions of society as a whole.

(from l) Dr. Sally Rockey, NIH deputy director for extramural research; Dr. Lawrence Tabak, NIH principal deputy director; and Collins. ACD member Dr. Clyde Yancy (l) of Northwestern University chats with Tuckson.
On hand at the 105th gathering of the advisory committee to the director are (from l) Dr. Sally Rockey, NIH deputy director for extramural research; Dr. Lawrence Tabak, NIH principal deputy director; and Collins. ACD member Dr. Clyde Yancy (l) of Northwestern University chats with Tuckson.

“Lack of diversity is doing damage to our ability to carry out our mission,” Collins declared. Added Tabak, “This is about assuring that the best and brightest enter the biomedical research workforce…It means we have to be committed to diversity in all its dimensions.” The scientific workforce, he added, “needs to look like our nation.”

“This assignment was a time-bomb,” said working group co-chair Dr. Reed Tuckson of the UnitedHealth Group.“This is a heavy-laden issue. No matter which way you turn, someone’s going to be irritated.”

“This is not just a moral imperative,” said Dr. Clyde Yancy of Northwestern University, “but…the world changed on Nov. 6, and it’s nice to be in the forefront” of a rapidly diversifying culture.

Foreseen in the diversity implementation plan is the hiring of a chief diversity officer and creation of the Building Infrastructure Leading to Diversity (BUILD) Program and a National Research Mentoring Network. Average yearly support for the BUILD/NRMN consortium is estimated to be $50 million, which would fund some 10 primary site institutions and about 600 trainees. Tabak noted that a rigorous mentored research experience “is the single best predictor of a person’s choice to pursue a biomedical research career.”

NHLBI director Dr. Gary Gibbons reports to the ACD about his institute’s work.

NHLBI director Dr. Gary Gibbons reports to the ACD about his institute’s work.

Photos: Bill Branson

“The Common Fund can support it for 10 years,” said Collins, “then if it succeeds, we can ask the institutes and centers to fund it further.”

Collins said NIH is going to begin implementing the diversity plan regardless of federal budget woes and noted that he is anxious to learn, in coming years, how many of its beneficiaries end up in the National Academy of Sciences or go on to hold named professorships at universities.

The working group on the biomedical research workforce made multiple recommendations to “enhance the training of biomedical researchers and enable tracking of their career outcomes. NIH is planning to enhance training of graduate students and postdoctoral researchers through a grants program that would support innovative approaches to complement traditional research training and by encouraging the adoption of individual development plans for all trainees.”

The full report is available at http://acd.od.nih.gov/bwf.htm.

Among other topics at the December meeting:

  • The NIH-FDA Tobacco Regulatory Science Program, which not only complements existing NIH tobacco research, but is also one of the few scientific programs to be looking at increased funding—approximately $66 million in new funding in FY 2012. “We expect that will grow,” noted Dr. David Murray, director of NIH’s Office of Disease Prevention. Among target problems? Adult smoking rates have stalled since 2004 at 20 percent.
    ACD member Dr. Joan Brugge, chair of the department of cell biology at Harvard, makes a comment during the meeting.

    ACD member Dr. Joan Brugge, chair of the department of cell biology at Harvard, makes a comment during the meeting.


  • A decision not to dissolve the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and create a new institute on substance use, abuse and addiction research, as recommended by the Scientific Management Review Board.

    “In mid-November, after much deliberation, I decided not to proceed with a structural reorganization of NIAAA and NIDA in favor of pursuing instead a functional integration of the existing research resources,” Collins reported. Added Tabak, “We feel confident, we feel very strongly that we can meet the goals of the SMRB recommendations—to change the status quo—through functional integration.”

  • Adoption of a new, single NIH logo to replace literally hundreds of logos generated over the years by the institutes and centers. That fragmented corporate identity works counter to NIH’s desire to be recognized by the public and Congress and appreciated for its work, argued John Burklow, NIH associate director for communications and public liaison. Owing to an unchecked proliferation of logos, “We’re making it not just difficult—but impossible—for the public to understand who we are,” he said.

Noted Collins, “We certainly need to have a stronger central identity if we are going to have any hopes of improving our ability to communicate with the public and for them to know what we do.” He quipped, “It’s goodbye to the ‘coat-hanger’ [NIH’s old logo], but it’s not going to be easy to get rid of it [since it is carved literally in stone in places around NIH].”


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