National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS)


The National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) supports basic research that increases understanding of biological processes and lays the foundation for advances in disease diagnosis, treatment, and prevention. NIGMS-funded scientists investigate how living systems work at a range of levels, from molecules and cells to tissues and organs, in research organisms, humans, and populations. Additionally, to ensure the vitality and continued productivity of the research enterprise, NIGMS provides leadership in training the next generation of scientists, in enhancing the diversity of the scientific workforce, and in developing research capacities throughout the country.

NIGMS was established in 1962. In Fiscal Year 2017, the Institute's budget was $2.6 billion. The vast majority of this money funds grants to scientists at universities, medical schools, hospitals, and other research institutions throughout the country. At any given time, NIGMS supports more than 3,000 investigators and 4,000 research grants—around 11 percent of the total number of research grants funded by NIH. Additionally, NIGMS supports around 26 percent of the NRSA trainees who receive assistance from NIH.

All NIH Institutes and Centers support basic research that is relevant to the diseases, organ systems, stages of life, or populations within their mission areas. In contrast, NIGMS supports fundamental research that does not focus on those specific areas. NIGMS’ research mission is aimed at understanding the principles, mechanisms, and processes that underlie living organisms, often using research models. NIGMS also supports the development of fundamental methods and new technologies to achieve its mission. NIGMS-supported research may utilize specific cells or organ systems if they serve as models for understanding general principles. Research whose overall goal is to gain knowledge about a specific organ or organ system or the pathophysiology, treatment, or cure of a specific disease or condition will, in most cases, be more appropriate for another Institute or Center. See the NIH listing of Institutes, Centers, and Offices to learn more about their specific missions.

NIGMS also supports research in specific clinical areas that affect multiple organ systems: anesthesiology and peri-operative pain; sepsis; clinical pharmacology that is common to multiple drugs and treatments; trauma, burn injury, and wound healing.

NIGMS is organized into divisions that support research and research training in a range of scientific fields.

Important Events in NIGMS History

July 16, 1958—The Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) approved establishment of the Division of General Medical Sciences.

October 17, 1962—Congress authorized establishment of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences.

January 30, 1963—The HEW 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—Administration of the Minority Biomedical Research Support program was transferred to NIGMS from the NIH Division of Research Resources.

December 23, 2011—Administration of the Institutional Development Award program was transferred to NIGMS from the former National Center for Research Resources, along with NCRR’s biomedical technology programs.

July 31, 2012—NIH creates the Office of Emergency Care Research (OECR), a focal point for basic, clinical, and translational emergency care research and training across NIH. OECR is located in NIGMS.

May 4, 2015—NIGMS establishes the Center for Research Capacity Building (CRCB).

March 9, 2017—Administration of the Science Education Partnership Award program is transferred to NIGMS from NIH’s Division of Program Coordination, Planning, and Strategic Initiatives.

January 2018—NIGMS reorganizes into three scientific divisions: Biophysics, Biomedical Technology, and Computational Biosciences (BBCB); Genetics and Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology (GMCDB); and Pharmacology, Physiology, and Biological Chemistry (PPBC). CRCB becomes a full division, and OECR transfers to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. 

NIGMS Legislative Chronology

October 17, 1962—Public Law 87-838 authorized the U.S. Surgeon General to establish an institute to conduct and support research and research training in the general or basic medical sciences and in related natural or behavioral sciences that have significance for two or more other institutes of NIH, or that lie outside the general areas of responsibility of any other institute.

Biographical Sketch of NIGMS Director Jon R. Lorsch, Ph.D.

Jon R. Lorsch, Ph.D., became the director of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences in August 2013.

In this position, Lorsch oversees the Institute's $2.6 billion budget, which supports basic research that increases understanding of biological processes and lays the foundation for advances in disease diagnosis, treatment, and prevention.

NIGMS supports more than 3,000 investigators and 4,500 research grants—around 11 percent of the total number of research grants funded by NIH as a whole. Additionally, NIGMS supports around 26 percent of the NRSA trainees who receive assistance from NIH.

Lorsch came to NIGMS from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, where he was a professor in the Department of Biophysics and Biophysical Chemistry. He joined the Johns Hopkins faculty in 1999 and became a full professor in 2009.

A leader in RNA biology, Lorsch studies the initiation of translation, a major step in controlling how genes are expressed. When this process goes awry, viral infection, neurodegenerative diseases, and cancer can result. To dissect the mechanics of translation initiation, Lorsch and collaborators developed a yeast-based system and a wide variety of biochemical and biophysical methods. The work also has led to efforts to control translation initiation through chemical reagents, such as drugs. Lorsch continues this research as a tenured investigator in the NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

NIGMS supported Lorsch's research from 2000-2013. He also received grants from the NIH’s National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases and National Institute of Mental Health, as well as from other funding organizations.

Lorsch is as passionate about education as he is about research. During his tenure at Johns Hopkins, he helped reform the curricula for graduate and medical education, spearheaded the development of the Center for Innovation in Graduate Biomedical Education, and launched a program offering summer research experiences to local high school students, many from groups that are underrepresented in the biomedical sciences. In addition, he advised dozens of undergraduate and graduate students and postdoctoral fellows.

Lorsch received a B.A. in chemistry from Swarthmore College in 1990 and a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Harvard University in 1995, where he worked in the laboratory of Jack Szostak, Ph.D. He conducted postdoctoral research at Stanford University in the laboratory of Daniel Herschlag, Ph.D.

Lorsch is the author of more than 70 peer-reviewed research articles, book chapters, and other papers. He has also been the editor of six volumes of Methods in Enzymology and has been a reviewer for numerous scientific journals. He is the author on two awarded U.S. patents. His honors include six teaching awards from Johns Hopkins.

Lorsch’s other activities have included membership on the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology’s mentoring committee, the RNA Society’s board of directors, and NIH review committees.

Since joining NIH, he has taken on several leadership roles, including serving on the NIH Scientific Data Council, Administrative Data Council, and Extramural Activities Working Group, which he co-chairs.

NIGMS Directors

Name In Office from To
Clinton C. Powell July 1962 July 1964
Frederick L. Stone August 1964 April 1970
DeWitt Stetten, Jr. October 1970 August 1974
Ruth L. Kirschstein September 1974 July 1993
Marvin Cassman (Acting) July 1993 August 1996
Marvin Cassman August 1996 May 2002
Judith H. Greenberg (Acting) May 2002 November 2003
Jeremy M. Berg November 2003 July 2011
Judith H. Greenberg (Acting) July 2011 July 2013
Jon R. Lorsch August 2013 Present

Major Programs

Division of Biophysics, Biomedical Technology, and Computational Biosciences

The Division of Biophysics, Biomedical Technology, and Computational Biosciences (BBCB) facilitates advances in basic biomedical research by supporting the development of biophysical and computational methods and tools for understanding basic biological questions; physical and theoretical methodologies, bioinformatics tools, and sophisticated quantitative approaches to lay a foundation for advances in disease diagnosis, treatment, and prevention in health and disease; and the creation of innovative tools and new technologies for the study of macromolecular, cellular, and organelle processes and function.

The long-term goals of the division are to leverage data, methods, and technologies to answer fundamental biological questions, to develop a more robust computing infrastructure for the biomedical research community, and to promote and facilitate the development and use of new biophysical, computational, and experimental technologies in biomedical research.

The division has three components: the Biomedical Technology Branch, the Biophysics Branch, and the Bioinformatics and Computational Biology Branch.

Bioinformatics and Computational Biology Branch

This branch supports bioinformatics and computational approaches that join biology with the computer sciences, engineering, mathematics, biostatistics, and physics, as well as general approaches that have the potential for broad applicability and usage by investigators with support from across NIH and other agencies. Areas of interest include quantitative biology approaches at the cellular, subcellular, physiological, and population scales, including the development of models and algorithms related to biological networks organization and dynamic processes. The branch also leads the NIH Biomedical Information Science and Technology Initiative and collaborates with the National Science Foundation to support programs in mathematical biology.

Biomedical Technology Branch

This branch supports research to discover, create, and develop innovative technologies for biomedical research. Technology development often requires multidisciplinary and team-oriented approaches and can lead to new or improved instrument and methods development that has broad application to medical research. Areas of emphasis include computational infrastructure, molecular and cellular imaging and dynamics, and technologies to elucidate structural and functional biology. The branch also supports biomedical technology research resources.

Biophysics Branch

This branch supports studies that apply techniques and principles derived from the physical sciences to examine structures and structure-function relationships in biology. Areas of emphasis in biophysical research include the development and application of physical and theoretical techniques to biological problems from the molecular to cellular level of organization, and the application of engineering science and technology to the development of improved methods of measurement and analysis for physiological and biomedical research. Of interest are new applications of established techniques and the modification of existing instrumentation to yield improved resolution, sensitivity, or accuracy. Central problems include the fundamentals of molecular properties and interactions; relationships between sequences and molecular structures, dynamics, and functions; assembly and mechanism of supramolecular structures including cellular membranes, cytoskeleton, and viruses; and discovery of ways to selectively influence biological processes based on these structures.

Division of Genetics and Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology

The Division of Genetics and Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology (GMCDB) supports research to understand the structure and function of cells and cellular components, and the cellular and molecular mechanisms that underlie inheritance, gene expression, and development. The results of this research form the foundation for advances in diagnosing, preventing, treating, and curing a wide variety of diseases. Most of the projects supported by the division make use of research organisms, which advance the general understanding of biological processes. In most cases, research whose overall goal is to gain knowledge about a specific organ or organ system or the pathophysiology, treatment, or cure of a specific disease or condition is not supported by the GMCDB Division.

The division has three components: the Cell Biology Branch, the Developmental and Cellular Processes Branch, and the Genetic Mechanisms Branch.

Cell Biology Branch

This branch supports studies on the molecular basis of cellular function in a wide range of cell types and model systems. Research topics include plasma and intracellular membrane systems and functions; protein processing, membrane trafficking, and intracellular transport; cellular aspects of protein folding; organelle biogenesis, inheritance, and dynamics; cell division; cytoskeletal structure and function; cellular organization, motility, and mechanics; cell adhesion and signaling; and cell-cell junctions and interactions.

Developmental and Cellular Processes Branch

This branch supports studies on the genetic and biochemical pathways that cells utilize in development and in normal physiological processes, spanning the spectrum from the genetic basis of development and cell function to biochemical signaling pathways that underlie normal cell physiology. Research topics include cell cycle control; mechanisms of cell death; regulation of cell growth, differentiation, and homeostasis; adaptive responses to stress and nutrients; stem cell biology; organismal response to the environment and microbe-host interactions; developmental genetics; developmental signaling; neurogenetics and the genetics of behavior; and chromosome structure and epigenetic regulation of gene expression.

Genetic Mechanisms Branch

This branch supports studies on the mechanism and regulation of basic molecular processes. Research topics include DNA and RNA metabolism (i.e., replication, modification, and repair), transcription, coding and noncoding RNA mechanisms of action and function, and protein synthesis. Studies that investigate interactions among these processes are also supported. In addition, the branch supports studies of population genetics, evolution, and the genetic basis of human biology. The emphasis is on general principles governing these processes rather than on the expression of specific genes in relation to organismal phenotypes or disease.

Along with its research and research training activities, the division supports the NIGMS Human Genetic Cell Repository, which maintains and distributes to research scientists cell lines and DNA samples from people with and without genetic disorders.

Division of Pharmacology, Physiology, and Biological Chemistry

The Division of Pharmacology, Physiology, and Biological Chemistry (PPBC) supports a broad spectrum of research 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 biological chemistry that are very basic in nature. The goals of supported research include an improved understanding of drug action and of anesthesia; mechanisms underlying responses to drugs; new methods and targets for drug discovery; advances in natural products synthesis; an enhanced understanding of biological catalysis; knowledge of metabolic regulation and fundamental physiological processes; and the integration and application of basic physiological, pharmacological, and biochemical research to clinical issues in anesthesia, clinical pharmacology, and trauma and burn injury. Research approaches are state-of-the-art and employ the optimal research organisms for the problems being addressed.

The division has two components: the Biochemistry and Bio-related Chemistry Branch and the Pharmacological and Physiological Sciences Branch.

Biochemistry and Bio-related 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 bio-related 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, the biochemical roles of normal and altered mitochondrial proteins, and the biosynthesis and structure of carbohydrate-containing macromolecules. Examples of chemical investigations 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. This work focuses on the development of biological catalysts, including living organisms, 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. In the pharmacological sciences and anesthesiology, important areas are the effects of drugs on the body and the body's effects on drugs, as well as how these effects vary from individual to individual. This includes traditional investigations of the absorption, transport, distribution, metabolism, biotransformation, and excretion of drugs as well as drug delivery strategies and determinants of drug kinetics. An area of emphasis is understanding the mechanisms of drug and endogenous stimuli interactions with receptors and their signal transduction mechanisms. This includes studies of soluble and membrane-bound receptors and channels, secondary and tertiary messenger systems, the membrane environment and its constituents, and 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 branch includes studies of post-traumatic sepsis and the mechanisms of immunosuppression, wound healing, and hyper-metabolism following injury. This branch also supports research in basic molecular immunobiology, which focuses on cells of the immune system.

Division for Research Capacity Building

The Division for Research Capacity Building (DRCB) supports research, research training, faculty development, and research infrastructure improvements in states that historically have not received significant levels of research funding from NIH. It also supports faculty research development at institutions that have a historical mission focused on serving students from underrepresented groups, research and research capacity building directed by Native American and Alaska Native tribal organizations, and conducts a science education program designed to improve life-science literacy.

DRCB is composed of four programs: Institutional Development Award (IDeA), Native American Research Centers for Health (NARCH), ​Science Education Partnership Awards (SEPA), and Support of Competitive Research (SCORE).The Division also participates in the STTR initiative to build and strengthen entrepreneurship and regional collaboration among IDeA states.


This program broadens the geographic distribution of NIH funding for biomedical research. IDeA fosters health-related research and enhances the competitiveness of investigators at institutions located in states in which the aggregate success rate for applications to NIH has historically been low. The program also increases the competitiveness of investigators by supporting faculty development and research infrastructure enhancement at institutions in 23 states and Puerto Rico.


This initiative supports partnerships between American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) tribes or tribally based organizations and institutions that conduct intensive academic-level biomedical research. NARCH supports research, research training, and faculty and infrastructure development to meet the needs of AI/AN communities.


This program is designed to improve life science literacy throughout the nation through innovative educational programs. SEPA-supported projects create partnerships among biomedical and clinical researchers and K-12 teachers and schools, museums and science centers, media experts, and other educational organizations.


This program seeks to increase the research competitiveness of faculty at institutions that have a historical mission focused on serving students from underrepresented groups. SCORE supports faculty research development at three formative stages of an investigator’s research career.

STTR Regional Technology Transfer Accelerator Hubs for IDeA States

This is a new initiative designed to promote biomedical entrepreneurship by creating one shared STTR regional technology transfer accelerator hub in each of the four IDeA regions (Central, Northeastern, Southeastern, and Western).

Division of Training, Workforce Development, and Diversity

The Division of Training, Workforce Development, and Diversity supports programs that foster research training and the development of a strong and diverse biomedical research workforce. The division funds research training, student development and career development activities through a variety of programs. In addition, it supports the NIH Common Fund initiative, Enhancing the Diversity of the NIH-Funded Workforce.

The division has two components: the Undergraduate and Predoctoral Training Branch and the Postdoctoral Training Branch.

Undergraduate and Predoctoral Training

This branch supports research training, student development and fellowship programs for undergraduate and predoctoral students, including individuals from populations that are underrepresented in the biomedical research workforce.

Postdoctoral Training

This branch supports research training, fellowships, and career development programs at the postdoctoral and early stage clinical investigator levels. It also supports studies on interventions that promote student interest in research careers, and it provides supplements to research grants that promote scientific workforce diversity by offering research experiences for students at all levels.

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. Its staff 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.

This page last reviewed on June 19, 2018