National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS)

Mission

The National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) supports basic research that increases our understanding of biological processes and lays the foundation for advances in disease diagnosis, treatment, and prevention. NIGMS also supports research in specific clinical areas that affect multiple organ systems: anesthesiology and peri-operative pain; clinical pharmacology ​common to multiple drugs and treatments; and injury, critical illness, sepsis, and wound healing.​ 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 supporting the training of the next generation of scientists, enhancing the diversity of the scientific workforce, and developing research capacity throughout the country.

NIGMS was established in 1962. In Fiscal Year 2022, the Institute's budget was $3.09 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 almost 4,700 investigators, more than 4,900 research trainees, and more than 5,500 research grants—around 11 percent of the total number of research grants funded by NIH. Additionally, NIGMS supports around 30 percent of the NRSA trainees who receive assistance from NIH.

All other 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 with the overall goal 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 is organized into divisions that support research, research training, and capacity building 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.

Headshot of Dr. Jon Lorsch Jon R. LorschNIH photo by Bill Branson

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 $3.09 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 almost 4,700 investigators, more than 4,900 research trainees, and more than 5,500 research grants—around 11 percent of the total number of research grants funded by NIH as a whole. Additionally, NIGMS supports around 30 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 80 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 as a co-chair on the NIH Scientific Data Council, the Extramural Activities Working Group, and the NIH UNITE-E committee; and as a member of the Administrative Data Council,

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 experimental and computational methods and tools for understanding basic biology; implementation of novel technologies and approaches in the study of macromolecular, organelle and cellular structure and function; and application of innovative physical and theoretical methodologies, bioinformatics tools, and sophisticated quantitative approaches to lay a foundation for advances in disease diagnosis, treatment, and prevention.

The long-term goals of the division are to leverage data, methods, and technologies to answer fundamental biological questions, to develop a more robust 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 Bioinformatics and Computational Biology Branch, the Biomedical Technology Branch, and the Biophysics 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 computational and 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 collaborates with the National Science Foundation to support the BioMath program.

Biomedical Technology Branch

This branch supports research to discover, create, and develop innovative technologies to enable discoveries in biomedical research. Areas of interest include computational infrastructure, molecular and cellular imaging and dynamics, technologies to elucidate structural and functional biology, methods to engineer and manipulate cells, and bioanalytical technologies to interrogate cellular composition and function. The branch also supports centers and resources that provide the research community access to biomedical technologies.

Biophysics Branch

This branch supports research that applies quantitative principles and techniques to elucidate structures and structure-function relationships in fundamental biology. Areas of emphasis include application of physical and theoretical concepts to biological problems from the molecular to cellular level and development of improved methods of measurement and analysis for use by the broader biomedical research community. Of interest are new applications of established techniques and the modification of existing instrumentation to yield improved resolution, sensitivity, or accuracy.

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 research organisms. 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; cell-cell junctions and interactions; mechanisms of cell death; and cellular signaling in growth

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. Research topics include stem cell biology; developmental genetics; developmental signaling; genetics of behavior and circadian biology; chromosome structure and epigenetic regulation of gene expression; population genetics and evolution; adaptive responses to stress and nutrients; microbiome, biofilms, and quorum sensing; and organismal response to the environment.

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 and gene regulatory networks; coding and noncoding RNA mechanisms of action and function; protein synthesis; the genetic basis of human biology; and chromosomal and genome stability.

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 obtaining a molecular-level understanding of biological processes and approaches to their control. Research funded takes a multifaceted approach to problems in pharmacology, physiology, biochemistry, and biological chemistry that are very fundamental in nature.

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 and clinical research studies in the areas of anesthesia and pain; cell surface receptors​ and ion channe​ls; drug metabolism, transport, and kinetics; inflammation and innate immunity in selected clinical research areas​; injury and critical illness syndromes; intracellular mediators of signal transduction; intercellular communications and blockers; membrane proteins, lipids, and scaffolding; multi-organ physiology; packaging and delivery of molecules and biologics; sepsis and septic shock (see NOT-GM-19-054 for NIGMS priorities); and wound healing. The branch also offers limited funding for Investigator-Initiated Clinical Trials in specific Clinical Research Areas that fit within the mission of NIGMS.

Pharmacological and Physiological Sciences Branch

This branch supports basic research studies in the areas of bioenergetics and mitochondria; chemical biology; chemical catalysis and reactions; design and synthesis of chemical probes; enzyme mechanisms, regulation, and inhibition; glycosciences; metallobiology and homeostasis; natural products discovery and analysis; biological redox reactions; synthetic biology/engineering; synthesis of complex molecules; and technology development, including chemical tools.

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 science education programs 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 for Research Excellence (SuRE) program. The Division also participates in the STTR initiative to build and strengthen entrepreneurship and regional collaboration among IDeA states through the I-RED program.

IDeA

This program broadens the geographic distribution of NIH funding for biomedical research by supporting competitive basic, clinical, and translational research; biomedical research workforce development; and infrastructure improvements in states in which the aggregate success rate for applications to NIH has historically been low. IDeA aims to strengthen institutions' ability to support biomedical research, enhance the competitiveness of investigators in securing research funding, and catalyze clinical and translational research that addresses the needs of IDeA state populations. The program also increases the competitiveness of investigators by supporting faculty development and research infrastructure enhancement.

NARCH

This program funds federally recognized American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) tribes and organizations for health research, research career enhancement, and research infrastructure enhancement activities.

SEPA

This program supports educational activities that encourage pre-college students (pre-kindergarten to grade 12) from diverse backgrounds , including those from groups underrepresented in the biomedical and behavioral sciences, to pursue further studies in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). SEPA funds projects that are classroom-based for pre-college students and teachers or informal science education (ISE) projects conducted in outside-the-classroom venues such as science centers, museums and libraries.

SuRE

This program supports research capacity building at eligible higher education institutions through funding investigator-initiated research in the biomedical, clinical, behavioral, and social sciences that falls in the mission areas of the NIH.

Division of Training, Workforce Development, and Diversity

The Division of Training, Workforce Development, and Diversity (TWD) supports individuals and institutions 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 at the undergraduate, graduate, postdoctoral, and faculty levels. In addition, it supports the NIH Common Fund initiative, Enhancing the Diversity of the NIH-Funded Workforce.

The division has three components: the Undergraduate and Predoctoral Cross-Disciplinary Training Branch; the Predoctoral Basic Biomedical and Medical Science Training Programs Branch; and the Postdoctoral, Early Career, and Workforce Development Branch.

Undergraduate and Predoctoral Cross-Disciplinary Training Branch

This branch manages institutional research training and research education grants that 1) support undergraduate, postbaccalaureate, and predoctoral cross-disciplinary research training and 2) develop the capabilities of institutions to train these individuals, including those from populations and backgrounds that are underrepresented in the biomedical research workforce.

Predoctoral Basic Biomedical and Medical Science Training Programs Branch

This branch manages individual predoctoral fellowships as well as institutional basic biomedical research training and medical science training programs to develop the capabilities of institutions to train students, including those from populations and backgrounds that are underrepresented in the biomedical research workforce.

Postdoctoral, Early Career, and Workforce Development Branch

This branch manages competitive individual and institutional research training grants at the postdoctoral level, as well as career development awards. The branch also ​manages research project grants, professional meetings, research education grants and diversity supplements to promote workforce development across the career pathway.

Division of Extramural Activities

The Division of Extramural Activities is responsible for the grant-related activities of the Institute, including the receipt, referral, and 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. It also acts as a liaison with other NIH components for activities relating to grant policy, extramural procedures, application assignments, and foreign grant awards.

This page last reviewed on August 11, 2023