News from NIH

By | October 23, 2014

By Yvette Seger

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently released several notices of interest to the biological and biomedical research community, ranging from clarifying the role of graduate students and postdocs supported by research grants to the suspension of funding for certain types of research.

On October 10, NIH issued a notice that is particularly significant for postdoctoral scholars, the majority of whom are supported by research project grants. It recognizes their positions as both contributing to a research effort and as an opportunity to develop skills critical to becoming independent researchers. The notice reiterates the clarification released by the Council on Financial Assistance Reform (COFAR) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) regarding the dual role of graduate students and postdocs supported on federal research grants. The clarification states, “For non-Federal entities that educate and engage students in research, the dual role of students as both trainees and employees contributing to the completion of Federal awards for research must be recognized in the application of these principles.”

An NIH Request for Information (RFI), also issued on October 10, seeks public input to inform the development of a program to facilitate the transition of physician-scientists to independent research careers. Proposed options include: modification of existing mentored career development awards, restructuring of institutional training or career development awards to fulfill the specific needs of physician-scientists, and development of a K99/R00 career transition award that better suits the career trajectory of physician-scientists to obtain input on perceived barriers and possible solutions to reinvigorate this dwindling workforce. The document builds upon the findings and recommendations of the Physician-Scientist Workforce Working Group that was presented the Advisory Committee to the Director, NIH, in June. Responses must be submitted via the RFI website and are due by November 3, 2014.

In accordance with an October 17 statement from the White House, NIH announced a funding pause for new “gain-of-function research” involving influenza, MERS, and SARS viruses. The three viruses were selected because of the significant risk they pose to public health. NIH defines gain-of-function research as any modification of a biological agent — like viruses, bacteria, or toxins — that gives it new or enhanced activity. Research affected under this announcement is limited to projects using any of the three viruses that are anticipated to enhance their pathogenicity or transmissibility via the respiratory system in mammals. The funding pause, which is expected to last nine months, will not impede efforts to characterize or test naturally-occurring versions of these viruses. During the pause, the government will carry out a deliberative process to assess the risks and benefits of such studies and will develop a new Federal policy regarding the funding of this research.