NIH Roadmap Accelerates
Bethesda, Maryland — One year after launching the
NIH Roadmap for Medical Research, the National Institutes of Health
(NIH) has made significant progress toward accelerating
the pace of discovery.
Newly funded projects aim to ramp up the efficiency of the medical
research enterprise by orders of magnitude. Among these are innovative
programs to train clinical researchers and to fund highly creative
thinkers, a nationwide interconnected network of biocomputing centers,
and projects supporting the development of a diverse array of small
molecules and imaging probes freely available to all researchers.
"The bold vision of the NIH Roadmap promises to pay off enormously
for America's health," said Health and Human Services Secretary
Tommy G. Thompson. "The Roadmap is a critical step toward improving
the quality of life through scientific and technological innovation."
The scientific community's response to NIH Roadmap solicitations
has been robust, yielding many more new grant applications than
expected. In establishing the Roadmap, NIH purposefully intended
to usher new researchers and new fields into the fold.
"We know that today's scientific landscape demands new ways
of thinking, and we know we need to introduce a new paradigm for
the conduct of medical research," said NIH Director Elias A.
Zerhouni, M.D. "That's what the Roadmap is all about — creating
a supportive environment for scientists and their ideas to come
together in ways we've never seen before."
Team science is an underlying current of the entire NIH Roadmap
effort. Such new approaches to research call for increased flexibility
and innovative modes of scientific collaboration. Offering scientists
from different fields equal status as funded investigators on certain
joint projects is one way NIH is attempting to break down the walls
that bar productive teamwork. Another method has been to modify
NIH grant application instructions to eliminate fiscal disincentives
of establishing consortia. And with the new NIH Director’s
Pioneer Award program, NIH has provided five years of funding to
each of nine exceptionally creative people, encouraging these scientists
to pursue their highly innovative ideas with unprecedented intellectual
"Tomorrow's breakthroughs hinge on letting creative minds
take chances," said Dr. Zerhouni. "Through the Pioneer
Award program, NIH is experimenting with how to alter scientific
review practices to accommodate very creative projects that may
have no proven track record for success, but whose outcome could
well change medical practice in dramatic ways."
Future initiatives include regional centers for translational research
and specialized nanomedicine facilities. These and many other Roadmap
initiatives are currently under development, in consultation with
NIH stakeholders. In addition, several of the currently funded Roadmap
initiatives will be reannounced so that scientists who missed the
first opportunity can apply next year for Roadmap funds.
NIH Roadmap initiatives fall within three overarching themes that
are applicable across all areas of science. Researchers from any
discipline are free to apply for any of the awards. In fiscal year
2004, NIH awarded $64 million to projects within the New Pathways
to Discovery theme, $27 million to Research Teams of the Future
projects, and $38 million to projects within the Re-Engineering
the Clinical Research Enterprise theme. Selected highlights of recently
funded projects within each theme appear below.
New Pathways to Discovery
As the scientific landscape evolves, researchers must have the ability
to accurately measure biological processes in real time, in living
samples. Several Roadmap projects within this theme were designed
to develop a 21st-century toolkit that will enable scientists to
better understand the workings of biological systems.
The activities within this theme are forging new links between
chemistry and biology. Newly funded programs will yield novel ways
to generate and study small molecules, including exquisitely sensitive
imaging probes. Such resources will help unravel the functions of
genes, cells, pathways and whole organisms, advancing scientists'
ability to understand disease at its earliest stages. A nationwide
consortium of molecular screening centers, the first of which opened
this summer on the NIH campus, will share a common database of literature
and experimental data through PubChem, which is freely available
to scientists in the public and private sectors. This network will
be unprecedented in its broad utility to basic and clinical researchers.
Increased amounts of quantitative data and powerful, efficient
computer technologies are important ingredients for building models
of biological circuits, the first step toward understanding molecular
pathways of disease before symptoms appear. The four newly funded
National Centers for Biomedical Computing will develop the core
of a universal computing infrastructure that is urgently needed
to speed progress in biomedical research. The centers will create
innovative software programs and other tools that will permit researchers
to integrate and analyze data of different types and sources, opening
new pathways for understanding biological processes and human diseases.
“Biomedical research has developed extraordinarily powerful
data generation methods, such as imaging and DNA sequencing. The
wide availability of equally capable analysis toolkits will be crucial
to capitalize on this information,” said National Institute
of General Medical Sciences Director Jeremy M. Berg, Ph.D., who,
together with Donald A. B. Lindberg, M.D., Director of the National
Library of Medicine, co-led the working group that resulted in the
formation of a network of National Centers for Biomedical Computing.
In addition, the newly funded National Technology Centers for Networks
and Pathways are expected to yield extremely sensitive tools to
study protein dynamics inside healthy and diseased cells. The centers
will work together to develop novel technologies in the burgeoning
field of proteomics — the systematic study of the proteins in
a cell, tissue or organism.
For more information about the "New Pathways to Discovery" theme,
go to: http://nihroadmap.nih.gov/newpathways/index.asp.
Research Teams of the Future
The rising complexity of biology and the constant emergence of new
health threats call for closer collaboration between biologists,
chemists, engineers, computer scientists, social and behavioral
scientists, among others. Several innovative training programs have
been launched within this Roadmap theme area to address this need.
One inventive program, entitled Training for a New Interdisciplinary
Workforce, applies an entirely new funding mechanism toward supporting
interdisciplinary work at all levels, from undergraduate students
through postdoctoral researchers.
"It is critical that we lay strong foundations today to enable
the formation of the diverse, interdisciplinary scientific teams
that are required for the success of future research endeavors,"
said National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research Director
Lawrence A. Tabak, D.D.S., Ph.D., who, together with Patricia A.
Grady, Ph.D., R.N., F.A.A.N., Director of the National Institute
of Nursing Research, and Kenneth Olden, Ph.D., Director of the National
Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, co-led the Roadmap Interdisciplinary
Research working group. "In order to solve the complex problems
facing science and medicine, we need researchers who are comfortable
crossing disciplines to find new colleagues and fresh ideas."
NIH is also funding 21 awards for Exploratory Centers for Interdisciplinary
Research as part of the Research Teams of the Future theme. Dispersed
around the country and covering a diverse array of medical research,
the centers will focus on obesity, insect-borne diseases, diabetes,
vaccines, stroke rehabilitation and other health-related issues.
Designed to lower organizational barriers that impede research,
these centers are expected to solve biomedical problems that have
persisted despite traditional, discipline-based approaches.
Other newly funded projects within this theme support the establishment
of a variety of curricula and short courses, collectively aimed
at bringing together researchers from varied disciplines and helping
to train a new cadre of interdisciplinary scientists in biology
and in the social and behavioral sciences.
For more information about the "Research Teams of the Future" theme,
go to: http://nihroadmap.nih.gov/researchteams/index.asp.
Re-Engineering the Clinical Research Enterprise
Perhaps the most pivotal, and also the most complex and difficult,
aspect of the NIH Roadmap vision is its efforts to accelerate and
strengthen the nation's clinical research enterprise, thereby bringing
research results to clinical settings far more quickly than is currently
possible. NIH is employing several strategies to pursue these goals.
Many of the most debilitating, long-term illnesses gradually erode
patients' quality of life because of the fatigue, pain and mood
changes that accompany these conditions. Health care providers cannot
accurately measure these symptoms, yet understanding their causes
and role in disease progression is critical to improving health
and finding better therapies. The newly funded computer-based Patient-Reported
Outcomes Measurement Information System will document and analyze
patient-reported symptoms, enhancing knowledge of a wide range of
Several initiatives within this theme, currently at various stages
of development, are designed to grow and nurture a highly skilled
clinical research workforce. For example, the recently funded Multidisciplinary
Clinical Research Career Development program will train health professionals
from a broad spectrum of disciplines and specialties in doing clinical
research. This program will yield a new group of clinical researchers,
the NIH Clinical Research Scholars, trained in conducting clinical
research in multidisciplinary, collaborative settings.
"High-quality clinical research studies are the key to making
sure Americans receive the benefits of the latest medical research
breakthroughs," said National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal
and Skin Diseases Director Stephen I. Katz, M.D., Ph.D., who, along
with Stephen E. Straus, M.D., Director of the National Center for
Complementary and Alternative Medicine, co-led several of the working
groups within this theme. "We envision that, in time, Roadmap-led
efforts will help build the necessary infrastructure for an extremely
functional, integrated system in which clinical research can flourish."
NIH is also working hard to identify and assimilate best practices
in clinical research to expand the scope of research activities,
increase participation, and facilitate collaboration and information
sharing among researchers in clinical settings. Twelve newly funded
feasibility studies are examining how to better integrate existing
clinical research networks spanning a broad health spectrum, including
cardiovascular disease, depression, cancer, tuberculosis, HIV and
acute respiratory distress syndrome. Key areas of focus include
the use of informatics and technology to streamline and expand clinical
research networks. NIH is also making significant strides in its
efforts to promote coordination of clinical research policy across
Other Roadmap projects within this theme and currently underway
include finding workable approaches to bringing more community health
care providers into the practice of clinical research.
For more information about the "Re-Engineering the Clinical Research
Enterprise" theme, go to: http://nihroadmap.nih.gov/clinicalresearchtheme/index.asp.
While the NIH Roadmap effort spent less than one-percent of the
overall NIH budget this fiscal year, and remains modest in size
compared to the NIH budget total throughout the projected 6-year
life of the Roadmap, the process has already had a substantial impact
in accomplishing its goal of uniting researchers across fields and
coordinating the actions and priorities of NIH's many diverse components.
"The Roadmap was born of the need to transform how we do our
science," said Dushanka V. Kleinman, D.D.S., M.Sc.D, Assistant
Director for NIH Roadmap Coordination. "The process itself
is stimulating “roadmap-like” discussions in other institutions
and organizations," she said.
The NIH Roadmap for Medical Research is a series of far-reaching
initiatives designed to transform the Nation's medical research
capabilities and speed the movement of scientific discoveries from
the bench to the bedside. It provides a framework of the priorities
the NIH must address in order to optimize its entire research portfolio
and lays out a vision for a more efficient and productive system
of medical research. Additional information about the NIH Roadmap
can be found at http://nihroadmap.nih.gov.
For more information on the NIH, please visit the NIH Web site at
The National Institutes of Health (NIH), an agency of the U.S.
Department of Health and Human Services, is the primary Federal
agency for conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational
medical research. NIH is comprised of 27 institutes and centers
and investigates the causes, treatments, and cures for both common
and rare diseases.