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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.

Biophysics 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 biochemistry.

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.

MARC Branch

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 scientist fellowships.

MBRS Branch

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.

Special Initiatives

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 Health.

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 Biological Chemistry

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 medicinal chemistry.

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 carbohydrate-containing macromolecules.

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 body’s 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 anesthesia.

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 institute’s 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.


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