The Advisory Council to the Director (ACD) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently received updates on topics related to the practice and support of biomedical research. During sessions held at the NIH campus in Bethesda, MD on June 8 and 9, NIH leadership briefed the ACD on issues, including recommendations for rigor and reproducibility (R&R), physician-scientists training programs, and supporting workforce diversity.
Michael Lauer, MD, deputy director for extramural research, summarized policies and recommendations supporting the R&R of NIH funded research, an effort mandated by Section 2039 of the 21st Century Cures Act. He described how input provided by scientific review and program officers through structured interviews during the summer of 2016 informed the framework of NIH strategy to implement R&R policy. Among them were a requirement that grant applications and associated summary statements address R&R and that each grant be quantitatively assessed for measures of R&R by an online-interfaced ratings management system. In the discussion, the ACD addressed questions concerning data stewardship, reagent verification, and validation of animal models in disease.
Lauer also discussed ongoing initiatives of the Physician Scientists Working Group. He presented data demonstrating that fewer physicians receive independent grants and awards, and are doing so at later ages. To address this, the working group proposed increasing the frequency and number of laboratory research opportunities in the Medical Scientists Training Program (MSTP). This initiative is also designed to enroll first and second year medical students who are interested in gaining a meaningful research experience. The modified research-oriented MSTP program is expected to be supported by a dedicated institutional training grant (T32). Additionally, NIH plans to issue new physician-scientists specific granting mechanisms to facilitate their transition to independence at earlier ages.
NIH efforts to support the diversity of trainees and faculty in biomedical research were described by Hannah Valantine, MD, director of the office of scientific workforce diversity (SWD). In response to recommendations made by an earlier ACD Working Group on Diversity in Biomedical Research Workforce Report released in 2012, the SWD analyzed demographic trends in NIH support of biomedical researchers with respect to race and assessed the status of the NIH investment in diversity-focused programs at different career stages. Dr. Valantine highlighted how this analysis revealed striking and consistent gaps in support, recruitment and retention for underrepresented minorities (URMs), particularly for African American researchers. To combat these discrepancies, SWD established and supports three flagship programs in an integrated extramural diversity effort. Known as the National Diversity Program Consortium, it consists of the Building Infrastructure leading to Diversity (BUILD) program, The National Research Mentoring Network, and the Coordination and Evaluation Center. This initiative is designed to quantitatively assess the efficacy of diversity and outreach efforts in a systematic way, and to inform a data-driven determination of how future programs should be designed and executed on best practices. Finally, Dr. Valantine laid out the working group on diversity recommendations for 2017, which broadly aim to foster a culture of accountability in institutional processes, to focus on supporting URMs at career transition points, and to deploy proactive interventions supporting unbiased peer review.