APS Meeting with National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Director

On October 2, 2012 the APS President Sue Barman, Science Policy Chair John Chatham, and members of the Science Policy Committee met with leadership at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), including Director Dr. Gary Gibbons. The meeting also included Drs. Susan Shurin, Carl Roth, Sonia Skarlatos, James Kiley, Keith Hoots and Sheila Pohl.

Prior to the meeting the committee submitted a list of discussion questions to NHLBI. The following are excerpts of the responses:

What is your vision for NHLBI over the next 5 years? What areas of research you would like to see grow?

Just as the NHLBI’s past investments in biomedical research enabled dramatic improvements in public health that we are currently appreciating, so too will the research investments we make over the next five years ensure further public health benefits for future generations.  My vision is to build on the Institute’s successes by continuing to adhere to several enduring principles for successful management while pursuing unprecedented new scientific opportunities. Over the next five years we will work to:

  • value and support investigator-initiated fundamental discovery science
  • maintain a balanced, cross-disciplinary portfolio that includes a mix of basic, clinical, and population science
  • support educational outreach and the application of new knowledge to improve health
  • train and nurture the next generation of researchers
  • apply new knowledge in all communities to eliminate health disparities
  • be a nimble, adaptive, learning organization
  • leverage resources and partners
  • develop and apply new knowledge and new tools
  • connect with local and global communities
  • pursue provocative, “what if” stretch goals such as moving toward the remission or preemption of chronic heart, lung, and blood disorders.

We will focus on promising new research areas such as systems biology, reparative biology, predictive health, health disparities, and global health that have tremendous potential to revolutionize not only our understanding of heart, lung, and blood diseases and disorders, but also the ways in which we prevent, diagnose, and treat them. We also now have a number of new tools such as ‘omics and imaging technologies, informatics, and stem cell technologies that will allow us to approach research questions in entirely new ways.

How do you plan to balance basic research and translational research?

The Institute recognizes the importance of supporting both the basic science needed to develop new approaches to prevent, diagnose, and treat disease and the translational/clinical research needed to establish the efficacy of new approaches. The Institute invests approximately 50% of its extramural budget in basic research and 50% in clinical research and translational projects.

Although the NHLBI has begun a number of new efforts focused on translation, the Institute will continue its commitment to funding for basic research, an essential component of the Institute’s overall strategy for pursuing its mission. Many important NHLBI successes have relied on basic research advances. For example, basic research on hypertension and cholesterol metabolism led to identification of factors that directly influence blood pressure and cholesterol levels, verified that treatments directed toward lowering LDL levels and controlling hypertension resulted in improved cardiovascular health, and permitted pharmaceutical companies to develop multiple agents to treat hypercholesterolemia and hypertension. Furthermore, the NHLBI recognizes that while basic research enables industry to develop improved diagnostics and therapeutics, industry is unlikely to support the basic research projects that necessarily precede any such development efforts. Therefore, support for basic research by the NIH and other Federal agencies is not just critical, but essential.

How do you plan to sustain investigator-initiated research with current financial constraints?

The NHLBI has historically maintained a commitment to investigator-initiated research grants, with approximately 70 percent of its extramural budget allocated to their support. Regardless of the size of its budget, the Institute remains committed to a research agenda that provides leadership and support for a national program in diseases of the heart, blood vessels, lungs, and blood; and blood resources. The NHLBI will maintain its commitment, to the greatest extent possible, to (1) funding investigator-initiated research, the Institute’s preponderant and most important funding approach, (2) fostering career development of new investigators, and (3) preserving an appropriate program balance. In making decisions about the budget, we also will continue to rely upon outside experts as we seek to identify future research needs and scientific opportunities and to determine whether they can be most effectively addressed by investigator-initiated research or Institute initiatives.

How do you plan to encourage diversity in the biomedical research workforce?

To ensure that we benefit from the full range and breadth of talent available in the United States, the NIH and the NHLBI have established a number of programs to encourage the participation of individuals from underserved and underrepresented communities to pursue careers in biomedical research. NHLBI-specific diversity programs and NIH-wide diversity programs in which the NHLBI participates include:

High School Students:

  • Research Supplements to Promote Diversity in Health-Related Research for High School Students This program supports the participation of students with disabilities and/or from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups in research projects at U.S. institutions during the summer or academic year, or a combination of summer and/or during the academic year.

Undergraduate Students:

  • Research Supplements to Promote Diversity in Health-Related Research for Undergraduate Students This grant supplement program enables principal investigators with eligible NHLBI research grants/contracts to include undergraduate students in their projects. Eligible investigators may request support for a research experience for individuals from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups and individuals with disabilities.
  • Short-Term Research Education Program to Increase Diversity in Health-Related Research This R25 grant program seeks to promote diversity in undergraduate and health professional participant populations by providing short-term research education support to stimulate career development in cardiovascular, pulmonary, hematologic, and sleep disorders research. Its overall goal is to provide research opportunities for individuals from backgrounds underrepresented in biomedical science. This program is announced each year and has one receipt date.

Predoctoral Students:

  • T32 Training Program for Institutions That Promote Diversity (T32) This program provides training to graduate (predoctoral) students enrolled at non-research intensive institutions with an institutional mission focused on serving minority and other health disparity populations not well represented in scientific research or institutions that have been identified by federal legislation as having an institutional mission focused on these populations, with the potential to develop meritorious research training programs in cardiovascular, pulmonary, or hematologic diseases, and sleep disorders.
  • Research Supplements to Promote Diversity in Health-Related Research for Graduate Research Assistants This supplement enables principal investigators with eligible NHLBI research grants/contracts to include graduate students in their projects. Eligible investigators may request support for a research experience for individuals from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups and individuals with disabilities.
  • Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Awards for Individual Predoctoral Fellowships to Promote Diversity in Health-Related Research (Parent F31-Diversity) — This trans-NIH program encourages students from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, individuals with disabilities, and individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds to seek research doctoral degrees in the biomedical and behavioral sciences to help increase the number of well-trained scientists from underrepresented groups. The fellowship provides up to 5 years of support for research training leading to the Ph.D. or equivalent research degree, the combined M.D./Ph.D. degree, or other combined degrees in the biomedical or behavioral sciences. The NHLBI is one of a number of NIH Institutes that participate in the program.
  • Short-Term Research Education Program to Increase Diversity in Health-Related Research — This R25 grant program seeks to promote diversity in undergraduate and health professional participant populations by providing short-term research education support to stimulate career development in cardiovascular, pulmonary, hematologic, and sleep disorders research. Its overall goal is to provide research opportunities for individuals from backgrounds underrepresented in biomedical science.

Postdoctoral Researchers:

  • T32 Training Program for Institutions That Promote Diversity (T32) — This program provides training to postdoctoral individuals enrolled at non-research intensive institutions with an institutional mission focused on serving minority and other health disparity populations not well represented in scientific research, or institutions that have been identified by federal legislation as having an institutional mission focused on these populations, with the potential to develop meritorious research training programs in cardiovascular, pulmonary, or hematologic diseases, and sleep disorders.
  • Research Supplements to Promote Diversity in Health-Related Research for Individuals in Postdoctoral Training — This postdoctoral research supplement program enables principal investigators with eligible NHLBI research grants/contracts to include postdoctoral individuals from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups and individuals with disabilities in their projects.

New Junior Faculty Investigators:

  • Mentored Career Award for Faculty at Institutions That Promote Diversity (K01)— This program provides research support to faculty members at an eligible institution with an institutional mission focused on serving minority and other health disparity populations or with federal recognition of the same who can conduct high quality research in the areas of cardiovascular, pulmonary, hematologic, or sleep disorders.
  • Mentored Career Development Award to Promote Faculty Diversity/Re-Entry in Biomedical Research (K01) — This program invites applications to increase the number of highly trained investigators, from diverse backgrounds underrepresented in research areas of interest to the NHLBI or from those individuals who wish to re-enter their research careers (e.g., after a hiatus due to family circumstances).
  • Research Supplements to Promote Diversity in Health-Related Research for Junior Faculty Investigators — This program enables principal investigators with eligible NHLBI research grants/contracts to include recently appointed junior faculty (within 24 months) from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups andindividuals with disabilities on their research projects.

Established Researchers:

  • Research Supplements to Promote Diversity in Health-Related Research: Established Researchers Who Become Disabled — This supplement program enables principal investigators with eligible NHLBI research grants/contracts who become disabled to obtain additional support to permit completion of the currently funded research project.

What is the role of NHLBI in supporting trainees? For example, we note that the NHLBI does not offer individual predoctoral NRSA fellowships except for diversity/minorities.

The NHLBI supports training and career development programs in its mission areas for individuals at all educational levels, from high school students to faculty. The Institute collaborates with the scientific community and professional organizations to ensure that its programs meet the needs of young scientists from diverse backgrounds. Institute programs include institutional and individual research training awards and fellowships; diversity supplements to provide mentored experiences with established research scientists; the Pathway to Independence Program, which allows recipients to bridge the gap between a career development award and a research award; and career development programs designed for clinical research. Detailed information about the Institute’s support for Research Training and Career Development can be found in the NHLBI Fact Book at http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/about/factbook/chapter13.htm.

Currently, the NHLBI supports two NRSA predoctoral programs as identified above: the Individual Predoctoral Fellowships to Promote Diversity in Health-Related Research (Parent F31- Diversity) and the NHLBI Individual Predoctoral MD/PhD Fellows (F30). Predoctoral students are also supported on NRSA institutional programs and research grants. Participation in additional predoctoral programs at this time could limit future flexibility and innovation for training programs, making it harder to design new programs to address unmet needs in training (e.g., diversity, clinician scientists). The NHLBI uses a broad array of individual and institutional mechanisms to address the training needs for the future research workforce.

NHLBI T32 Grant Slot Policy to Enhance Research Workforce Diversity - Once all of its awarded predoctoral and/or postdoctoral training positions are filled, including adequate representation of individuals from diverse backgrounds, institutional NRSA training grants funded by the NHLBI may request an administrative increase to support training of an additional trainee from an underrepresented racial/ethnic group, a trainee with a disability, and/or an individual from a disadvantaged background.

Partnerships with other NIH ICs:

  • Minority Biomedical Research Support - Research Enhancement Award (SC1) - In collaboration with the NIGMS, the SCORE Program supports individual investigator-initiated research projects to enable development of researchers at minority-serving institutions to a stage where they can transition successfully to other extramural support.
  • Minority Biomedical Research Support - Pilot Project Award (SC2) - In collaboration with the NIGMS, the SCORE Program fosters the development of faculty at diversity promoting institutions who are either investigators at the beginning of a research career and interested in testing new ideas or generating preliminary data or more experienced investigators and interested in switching to a different field of research.
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