NIH 1998 Almanac/The Organization/NIGMS/
National Institute of General Medical Sciences : Major Programs
Division of Cell Biology and Biophysics
The Division of Cell Biology and Biophysics seeks
greater understanding of the structure and function of cells, cellular components, and the
biological macromolecules that make up these components. The long-range goal of the
division is to find ways to prevent, treat, and cure diseases that result from disturbed
or abnormal cellular activity.
The division has two components: the Biophysics
Branch and Cell Biology Branch.
This branch supports studies in the areas of
biophysics and bioengineering, disciplines that use techniques derived from the physical
sciences to examine the structures and properties of biological substances.
Areas of emphasis in biophysical research include
the determination of the structures of proteins and nucleic acids; studies of the
structural features that determine macromolecular conformation; the structural analysis of
macromolecular interactions and of ligand-macromolecular interactions; the development of
physical methodology for the analysis of molecular structure; and the development and use
of theoretical methods to investigate biological systems.
Bioengineering research interests include
development and refinement of instruments needed to conduct research in the areas
described above. These include nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, mass spectroscopy,
and other forms of spectroscopy; x-ray and other scattering techniques; microscopy; and
cell separation techniques. This area of research also includes development of new
bioanalytical methods and biomaterials.
Cell Biology Branch
This branch supports general studies on the
molecular and biochemical activities of cells and subcellular components, as well as on
the role of cellular dysfunction in disease. Emphasis is placed on research with
applications to more than one cell type, model system, or disease state, as well as
research that does not fall within the disease-oriented mission of another NIH component.
Representative studies include those on plasma
and intracellular membranes, receptors, and signal transduction mechanisms; structure and
function of the cyto-skeleton; cell motility; regulation of protein and membrane synthesis
and activation of cell growth; subcellular organelles; cell division; and lipid
Division of Genetics and Developmental Biology
The Division of Genetics and Developmental
Biology supports studies directed toward gaining a better understanding of the fundamental
mechanisms of inheritance and development. These studies underlie the more targeted
research projects supported by other NIH components. Most of the projects supported by the
division make use of nonhuman model systems. It is expected that the results of these
studies will lead to the eventual diagnosis, prevention, therapy, and cure of human
genetic and developmental disorders.
Among areas under active investigation are
replication, repair, and recombination of DNA; regulation of gene expression; RNA
processing; protein synthesis; extrachromosomal inheritance; population genetics and
evolution; developmental genetics; cell growth and differentiation; cell cycle control;
rearrangement of genetic elements; neuro-genetics and genetics of behavior; and chromosome
organization and mechanics.
Along with its research and research training
activities, the Division of Genetics and Developmental Biology supports the Human Genetic
Mutant Cell Repository, a unique resource for scientists studying medical and human
genetics. The repository establishes and stores well-characterized cultured cell lines
representing metabolic and chromosomal disorders collected from patients and their
families. These cells and DNA extracted from them, as well as somatic cell hybrids, are
provided to qualified investigators at modest charge, thus permitting the researchers to
study the molecular and cellular aspects of many rare genetic conditions using material
that would otherwise be difficult to obtain.
Division of Minority Opportunities in Research
The Division of Minority Opportunities in
Research administers research and research training programs aimed at increasing the
number of minority biomedical scientists. Support is available at the undergraduate,
graduate, postdoctoral, and faculty levels.
The division has three components: the Minority
Access to Research Careers (MARC) Branch; Minority Biomedical Research Support (MBRS)
Branch; and Special Initiatives.
The MARC branch supports research training at
4-year colleges, universities, and health professional schools with substantial
enrollments of such minorities as African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans,
and natives of the U.S. Pacific Islands.
Goals are to increase the number and capabilities
of minorities engaged in biomedical research and to strengthen science curricula and
student research opportunities at minority institutions. MARC funds research training for
honors undergraduates, predoctoral fellowships, faculty fellowships, and visiting
To increase numbers of researchers who are
members of minority groups underrepre-sented in biomedical sciences, the MBRS branch
awards grants to 2- or 4-year colleges, universities, and health professional schools with
substantial enrollments of minorities. These grants support research by faculty members,
strengthen the institutions biomedical research capabilities, and provide
opportunities for students to work as part of a research team.
The division develops and launches new research
and research training programs and other initiatives for minority scientists. These
include the Bridges to the Future Program (Bridges to the Baccalaureate Degree and Bridges
to the Doctoral Degree), which is cosponsored by the NIH Office of Research on Minority
The division is also responsible for organizing
meetings and other activities that build networks among individuals and educational
institutions to promote minority participation in sponsored research.
Division of Pharmacology, Physiology, and
The Division of Pharmacology, Physiology, and
Biological Chemistry supports a broad spectrum of research and research training aimed at
improving the molecular-level understanding of fundamental biological processes and
discovering approaches to their control. Research supported by the division takes a
multifaceted approach to problems in pharmacology, physiology, biochemistry, and
biorelated chemistry that are either very basic in nature or that have implications for
more than one disease area.
The goals of supported research include an
improved understanding of drug action and mechanisms of anesthesia; new methods and
targets for drug discovery; advances in natural products synthesis; an enhanced
understanding of biological catalysis; a greater knowledge of metabolic regulation and
fundamental physiological processes; and integration and application of basic
physiological, pharmacological, and biochemical research to clinical issues in
pharmacology, anesthesia, and trauma and burn injury.
Biochemistry and Biorelated Chemistry Branch
This branch supports basic research in areas of
biochemistry, such as enzyme catalysis and regulation, bioenergetics and redox
biochemistry, and glycoconjugates. It also supports research in areas of biorelated
chemistry, such as organic synthesis and methodology, as well as bioinorganic and
Examples of biochemical investigations include
studies of the chemical basis of the regulation and catalytic properties of enzymes,
intermediary metabolism, the chemical and physical properties of the cellular systems for
electron transport and energy transduction, and the biosynthesis and structure of
Chemical investigation examples include the
development of strategies for natural products synthesis, studies of the structure and
function of small molecules, the chemistry of metal ions in biological systems, the
development of novel medicinal agents or mimics of macromolecular function, and the
creation of new synthetic methodologies.
The branch also supports studies in biotechnology
and metabolic engineering. This work focuses on the development of biological catalysts,
including living organisms, for the production of useful chemical compounds, medicinal or
diagnostic agents, or probes of biological phenomena.
Pharmacological and Physiological Sciences Branch
This branch supports research in pharmacology,
anesthesiology, and the physiological sciences. Studies range from the molecular to the
organismal level, and can be clinical in nature.
Important areas being studied in the
pharmacological sciences and anesthesiology, are the effects of drugs on the body and the
bodys effects on drugs. Studies include investigations on the absorption, transport,
distribution, metabolism, biotransformation, and excretion of drugs, as well as drug
delivery strategies, determinants of bioavailability, and mechanisms of toxicity.
Understanding mechanisms of drug interactions
with receptors and signal transduction mechanisms is another major focus of this section.
This includes studies of soluble and membrane-bound receptors and channels, secondary and
tertiary messenger systems, mediator molecules, and their regulation and pharmacological
manipulation. A major direction is the investigation of molecular mechanisms of
Examples of studies in the physiological sciences
are basic and clinical investigations directed toward improving understanding of the total
body response to injury, including biochemical and physiological changes induced by
trauma. Research supported in this section includes studies on the etiology of
post-traumatic sepsis and the mechanisms of immunosuppression, wound healing, and
hypermetabolism following injury. Also, this section supports research in basic molecular
immunobiology, which focuses on using cells of the immune system to study fundamental
cellular and molecular mechanisms.
Division of Extramural Activities
The Division of Extramural Activities is
responsible for the grant-related activities of the institute, including the receipt,
referral, and advisory council review of applications as well as grant funding and
management. It maintains an overview of the institutes scientific and financial
status and advises the NIGMS director and other key staff on policy matters and on the
planning, development, and scientific administration of institute research and training
programs. The division recommends budget allocations for the various NIGMS programs. It
also acts as a liaison with other NIH components for activities relating to grant
application assignments and foreign grants.