NIGMS supports research that answers major questions about life, such as how cells live and die, how cells talk to each other, and how genes and proteins work. Other NIGMS studies focus on the way the body uses energy and how it responds to medicines. This research forms the foundation for new and better ways to diagnose, treat, cure, and prevent disease.
Some of the greatest mysteries about how the body works can best be tackled by large teams of scientists from different disciplines. NIGMS promotes this approach with grants that bring such teams together and speed the pace of discovery. Through these grants and other activities, the Institute is making special efforts to draw mathematicians, physicists, computer scientists, and engineers to biomedical research. Their expertise is especially needed to make the leap from studying individual molecules to understanding how molecules interact in complex biological systems. This knowledge will point to ways of intervening when these systems malfunction and illness results.
NIGMS plays additional key roles in maintaining the vitality of the scientific community by supporting the training of future researchers and working to increase the number of scientists who are members of underrepresented minority groups.
There are many indicators of the high quality of NIGMS-funded research ideas and scientists. One is the significant honors, such as Nobel Prizes and MacArthur Foundation "genius" awards, that regularly go to Institute grantees. A notable example is Roderick MacKinnon, M.D., who received the 2003 Nobel Prize in chemistry for determining the structure and function of ion channels in cell membranes. Life and health depend on the proper functioning of these channels in transporting essential molecules like potassium and sodium into and out of cells. Insights from MacKinnon's studies could lead to ways to repair faulty channels to treat a wide range of diseases, including those affecting the heart and the nervous system. MacKinnon, a biophysicist at The Rockefeller University in New York City, continues to do exceptional research with NIGMS support. His most recent achievement is described in the Science Advances section of this document.
Another sign of the qualityand impactof NIGMS research is the "breakthrough" designation given to scientific fields the Institute has nurtured. A case in point is the discovery and harnessing of a completely unexpected activity of the genetic material RNA. This exciting series of accomplishments is featured in the Story of Discovery that follows.