In this section:
» Research Training
» AIDS Program
» Minority Opportunities in Research
NIGMS continues to play a leading role in research training, supporting 45 percent of the predoctoral trainees and 28 percent of all of the trainees who receive assistance from NIH. In recognition of the rapidly changing, interdisciplinary nature of biomedical research today, the Institute's training programs are flexible and stress approaches to biological problems that cut across disciplinary and departmental lines. Such experience prepares trainees to pursue creative research in a wide variety of areas. So that biomedical science can benefit from the broadest possible intellectual resources, NIGMS promotes the training of a scientific workforce that reflects the composition of the U.S. population. In addition to the special programs to increase the number of minority biomedical scientists described later in this section, the Institute requires its institutional training programs to document how they plan to recruit underrepresented minority students and to report on the success of their efforts.
NIGMS trainees frequently contribute to major research advances. One example in FY 2003 came from basic research on proteins in the membrane that surrounds the cell's nucleus. The research team, which included an NIGMS postdoctoral fellow, discovered more than 50 previously unknown proteins and found that several of them are associated with rare, but devastating, human muscle and nerve degeneration diseases. Knowing the proteins that may cause or contribute to these diseases is a first step toward finding ways to detect, prevent, or treat them.
The Institute has several long-standing research training programs that focus on areas in which there is a particularly serious need for well-prepared scientists. One of these programs, the Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP), supports training leading to the combined M.D.-Ph.D. degree and produces investigators who can bridge the critical gap between basic and clinical research. In addition to providing training in the biological, chemical, and physical sciences, the program encourages and supports training in computer science, social and behavioral science, economics, epidemiology, public health, bioengineering, biostatistics bioethics. In FY 2003, the supported 930 trainees.
Another special program, the Pharmacology Research Associate (PRAT) Program, is NIGMS' only intramural activity. PRAT fellows conduct 2 years of postdoctoral research in NIH or FDA laboratories, working in such cutting-edge areas as neurobiology, tumor biology, and cell signaling. In FY 2003, PRAT fellows published significant findings in areas ranging from cancer genetics to alcohol abuse.
Other NIGMS training programs advance the progress of science by preparing researchers to enter the fast-growing fields of biotechnology, bioinformatics, and computational biology. In addition, NIGMS will begin the creation of a new predoctoral training program in the area of biostatistics. The Institute held a workshop in December 2003 to explore the need for such a program. Because scientists trained in biostatistics contribute to many biomedical research areas, an NIGMS biostatistics training program will benefit other NIH institutes and centers.
In response to a September 2002 report by the National Research Council titled Bio 2010: Undergraduate Education to Prepare Biomedical Research Scientists, NIGMS is partnering with the NIH Office of Science Education on a program to transform undergraduate biology education. The report identified a critical need for educators to incorporate examples and perspectives from mathematics, physics, chemistry, computer science, and engineering into biology courses and lab experiments. The NIGMS/Office of Science Education program will develop and disseminate curriculum materials that can serve as models for the integration of the quantitative sciences into biology education
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NIGMS support related to AIDS falls into three areas: program project grants that fund structure-based drug design, AIDS-related research training in molecular biophysics, and research grants to improve understanding of AIDS and its associated opportunistic infections.
NIGMS initiated its AIDS-related program project grants in FY 1987 to bring together crystallographers, chemists, and biologists to determine the detailed, three-dimensional structures of potential drug targets in HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. In FY 2003, one of the program's grantees determined the structure of an antibody that is able to neutralize HIV. This work may offer a new approach for designing a vaccine against AIDS.
The NIGMS research training program in molecular biophysics, which was established in FY 1988, prepares scientists to apply the techniques of physics and computer modeling to biological problems, chief among them HIV infection. Graduates of this program are trained to use structural biology in the design of drugs to fight HIV.
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Minority Opportunities in Research
NIGMS has a long-standing commitment to increasing the number and capabilities of underrepresented minorities engaged in biomedical research. The focal point for this effort is the Division of Minority Opportunities in Research (MORE). The goal of the MORE Division is to encourage minority students to pursue training for scientific careers and to enhance the science curricula and faculty research capabilities at institutions with substantial minority enrollments. Through MORE's programs, NIGMS takes a leading role at NIH in research and research training activities targeted to underrepresented minorities.
The MORE Division has three components: the Minority Access to Research Careers (MARC) Branch, the Minority Biomedical Research Support (MBRS) Branch, and a section that handles special initiatives.
Minority Access to Research Careers Branch
MARC supports student and faculty research training and enables institutions with substantial minority enrollments to strengthen their biomedical research training capabilities. As a result, these schools are able to interest students in, and prepare them for, pursuing doctoral study and biomedical research careers.
MARC offers Undergraduate Student Training in Academic Research (U*STAR) institutional grants, predoctoral fellowships, faculty predoctoral and senior fellowships, a visiting scientist program, and grants for ancillary training activities. MARC also manages a program of NIH predoctoral fellowships for minorities.
In FY 2003, MARC supported 649 undergraduate students at 53 institutions, 26 MARC predoctoral fellows, 3 faculty fellows, and 129 NIH predoctoral fellows.
In response to the growing need for quantitative approaches to biological problems, MARC funded two grants in FY 2003 to enable institutions with U*STAR programs to plan for introducing or integrating the quantitative sciences into their biology curricula. MARC may support additional planning grants in FY 2004, and it intends to fund the implementation of successful plans.
Minority Biomedical Research Support Branch
MBRS awards grants through three programs: Support of Continuous Research Excellence (SCORE), Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement (RISE), and Initiative for Minority Student Development (IMSD).
The SCORE Program assists biomedical research faculty at minority-serving institutions in developing competitive research programs that increase the number of underrepresented minorities who are professionally engaged in biomedical research. The RISE Program enhances the research environment at minority-serving institutions to increase the interest, skills, and competitiveness of students and faculty in pursuit of biomedical research careers. The IMSD encourages institutions with established research programs to initiate or expand activities to improve the academic and research capabilities of underrepresented minority students and to facilitate their progress toward careers in biomedical research.
In FY 2003, 838 faculty members at 117 institutions worked on 433 research projects. MBRS also supported 1,424 undergraduate and 736 graduate students, who worked as research assistants on scientific projects at their own institutions or in other settings, including laboratories at research-intensive institutions and in industry.
MORE supports several special initiatives that strive to develop new approaches for the recruitment and retention of minority biomedical scientists. One such activity is the Bridges to the Future Program, which is co-sponsored by NIGMS and the NIH National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities. This program encourages students in associate's or master's degree programs to make the transition to the next level of training (the bachelor's or Ph.D. degree, respectively) toward careers in biomedical research. Since the inception of the Bridges Program in 1992, NIGMS has supported 150 programs, 9 of which received initial funding in FY 2003.
The division also supports two innovative awards to foster the development of new skills. The MORE Faculty Development Award enables eligible faculty members to update or enhance their research skills by spending a summer (or one academic term) every year for 2 to 5 years in full-time research in a research-intensive laboratory outside their home institutions. The Institutional Research and Academic Career Development Award (IRACDA) combines a traditional postdoctoral research experience with an opportunity to develop teaching skills through mentored assignments at a minority-serving institution. The goals of the program are to provide a resource to motivate the next generation of scientists at minority-serving institutions and to promote linkages between research-intensive and minority-serving institutions that can lead to further research and teaching collaborations.
NIGMS continues to partner with the Indian Health Service on the Native American Research Centers for Health Program. This program encourages research on diseases and health conditions of importance to American Indians and Alaska Natives. It also prepares Native American biomedical and behavioral scientists and health professionals to compete for NIH funding. A third goal is to increase the capacity of both the research-intensive organizations and the Native American organizations to work together to produce competitive research proposals.
Another ongoing activity is the support of workshops, mini-courses, and meetings in a number of areas, including grant writing and program evaluation. In FY 2003, the MORE Division announced plans to support research that will test the effectiveness of interventions to increase minority and other student interest, motivation, and preparedness for biomedical and behavioral research careers.
In recognition of their exceptional achievements in nurturing minority students interested in research careers, three people associated with MORE programs were among the ten individuals who received 2003 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring. They are R. David Bynum, Ph.D., of Stony Brook University, State University of New York; Sara L. Young of Montana State University-Bozeman; and Steven G. Greenbaum, Ph.D., of the City University of New York, Hunter College. Bynum directs a MARC program, Young runs an IMSD program, and Greenbaum is a SCORE grant investigator.
Many participants in MORE programs go on to productive academic careers and professions in research or research administration. This shows that the educational strategy of involving students in hands-on research experiences is one that works. Recent success stories include:
LaVerne Ragster, Ph.D., a former program participant at San Diego State University, was inaugurated president of the University of the Virgin Islands in St. Thomas in March 2003. This marks the first time a former participant in one of the Institute's minority programs has become a university president.
Brian Carr, Ph.D., a former program participant at the University of Southern Colorado in Pueblo, is now working as a research scientist at Merck & Co., Inc.
Roberto Frontera-Suau, Ph.D., a former MARC program participant at the University of Puerto Rico, Medical Sciences Campus in San Juan and an IRACDA participant at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is now an assistant professor of biology at North Carolina's Elizabeth City State University.
A research team led by MBRS-supported investigator Jorge Gardea-Torresdey, Ph.D., of the University of Texas at El Paso has shown that the mesquite tree can process a cancer-causing form of chromium into a non-toxic form of the metal. This work, which could lead to a new way to remove toxic chromium from industrial waste sites, has been praised by environmental groups and was selected by the journal that published it as "one of the best technological solutions of the year."
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