Each year, NIGMS-supported scientists make major advances in understanding fundamental life processes. In the course of answering basic research questions, these investigators also increase our knowledge about the mechanisms involved in certain diseases. Other grantees develop important new tools and techniques, many of which have applications in the biotechnology industry. In recognition of the significance of their work, a number of NIGMS grantees have received the Nobel Prize and other high scientific honors.
NIGMS has three divisions that support research and research training in basic biomedical science fields: Cell Biology and Biophysics; Genetics and Developmental Biology; and Pharmacology, Physiology, and Biological Chemistry. The institute also has a Division of Minority Opportunities in Research, which administers programs that are designed to increase the number of minority biomedical scientists. Finally, NIGMS has a Division of Extramural Activities, which handles the grant-related functions.
NIGMS was established in 1962. In fiscal year 1997, its budget was $998 million. The vast majority of this money funds grants to scientists at universities, medical schools, hospitals, and research institutions throughout the country. At any given time, NIGMS supports over 3,500 research grants--about 14 percent of the grants funded by NIH as a whole. NIGMS also supports nearly half of the predoctoral trainees and about 30 percent of all the trainees who receive assistance from NIH.
The institute places great emphasis on the support of individual, investigator-initiated research grants. It funds a limited number of research center grants in selected fields, such as trauma and burn research and the pharmacological sciences (including anesthesiology), in which the interaction of basic and clinical researchers is critical for rapid scientific progress. In addition, NIGMS funds several research contracts that provide important resources for basic scientists.
NIGMS research training programs recognize the interdisciplinary nature of biomedical research today, and stress approaches to biological problems that cut across disciplinary and departmental lines. Such experience prepares trainees to pursue creative research careers in a wide variety of areas. Among the fields in which NIGMS has long offered institutional predoctoral training programs are the cellular, biochemical, and molecular sciences; genetics; the pharmacological sciences and systems; and integrative biology. Another longstanding training activity, the Medical Scientist Training Program, provides investigators who can bridge the gap between basic and clinical research by supporting research training leading to the combined M.D.-Ph.D. degree. Several newer training programs were designed to capitalize on rapidly developing areas of science, including biotechnology, molecular biophysics, and the interface between the fields of chemistry and biology.
The institute supports postdoctoral research through individual fellowships in areas related to its scientific programs and institutional postdoctoral training in the fields of anesthesiology, clinical pharmacology, medical genetics, and trauma and burn injury.
NIGMS also has a Pharmacology Research Associate Program, in which postdoctoral scientists pursue research in NIH or Food and Drug Administration laboratories. It is intended for individuals with backgrounds in the basic or clinical sciences who wish to obtain advanced experience in an area of pharmacology, or for those who are already pharmacologists to gain experience in new fields.
October 17, 1962--Congress authorized establishment of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences.
January 30, 1963--The DHEW secretary, approved establishment of NIGMS.
October 8, 1963--The National Advisory General Medical Sciences Council held its first meeting.
October 13, 1982--NIGMS celebrated its 20th anniversary by establishing the DeWitt Stetten, Jr., Lecture. Dr. David S. Hogness, Stanford University, gave the first lecture.
October 1, 1989--
Dr. Cassman was named NIGMS director on August 18, 1996. Prior to his appointment as the permanent director, he had served the institute as deputy director since 1989 and acting director since 1993.
His other positions within the institute included director, Biophysics and Physiological Sciences Program Branch (1985-1989) and chief, molecular basis of disease section of the Cellular and Molecular Basis of Disease Program Branch (1978-1984). He has also worked in the Office of Science and Technology Policy, Executive Office of the President, as a senior policy analyst.
After receiving his undergraduate degree from the University of Chicago, Dr. Cassman earned a Ph.D. in biochemistry in 1965 at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Following a postdoctoral fellowship in the laboratory of Dr. Howard Schachman at the University of California, Berkeley, he joined the faculty of the University of California, Santa Barbara. He came to NIGMS in 1975 as a health scientist administrator in the Cellular and Molecular Basis of Disease Program Branch.
He has received many honors and awards for his work at NIGMS, including the 1991 Presidential Meritorious Executive Rank Award and the 1983 NIH Director’s Award.
The division has two components: the Biophysics Branch and the 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 the 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 the 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; the structure and function of the cyto-skeleton; cell motility; the regulation of protein and membrane synthesis; and the activation of cell growth; subcellular organ-elles; cell division; and lipid biochemistry.
Among the areas under active investigation are the replication, repair, and recombination of DNA; the 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 the 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.
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.
The branch’s 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.
To increase the number of researchers who are members of minority groups that are underrepresented in the 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 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 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 the 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 pharmacological sciences and anesthesiology, are the effects of drugs on the body and the body’s effects on drugs. This includes investigations of the absorption, transport, distribution, metabolism, biotransformation, and excretion of drugs, as well as drug delivery strategies and determinants of bioavailability.
Understanding the 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.
Examples of studies in the physiological sciences include 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. This section also supports research in basic molecular immunobiology, which focuses on using cells of the immune system to study fundamental cellular and molecular mechanisms.