“I’m not sure of what ‘intramural’ means,” confessed a clinical trials patient as she was testing out a new Web site for NIH’s Intramural Research Program (IRP) recently.
The tester’s comment reinforced what NIH scientific directors and researchers have long suspected: The intramural program is all but invisible and not well understood by the outside world. Some people know that NIH funds biomedical research at medical schools and other institutions. But few realize that nearly 10 percent of the agency’s $30 billion budget is dedicated to “intramural research”—the basic and clinical research conducted on NIH campuses in Maryland, Arizona, Montana, and North Carolina.
NICHD researcher Mel DePamphilis hates cancer. One year ago, his then 39-year-old daughter, Kimberly—married with two children and a loving husband—was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a double mastectomy. In the months that followed, she received intense chemotherapy and radiation treatments in the hope of destroying the last vestige of her disease. “Cancer touches so many lives,” he rasped, overcome with emotion as he related the story. He took a breath and steadied himself, his eyes narrowed in determination. For DePamphilis, the battle against cancer was no longer academic; it was personal.
Stem cells, with the proper coaxing, have near–limitless potential. The same goes for stem cell programs. NIH’s own initiative for induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, begun a little over a year ago, is maturing quite nicely. What was once called the NIH induced Pluripotent Stem Cell Center (NiPC) is now the NIH Center for Regenerative Medicine (NIH-CRM). In August, the center got a new director—Mahendra Rao, a former senior investigator at NIA who left the NIH in 2005 and started a successful stem cell division for the company Invitrogen. He has returned for “an opportunity to make a difference on a larger scale than with any one company,” he said.
Paul Plotz “was my Sarastro when I came to NIH,” said Richard Siegel, chief of NIAMS’s Autoimmunity Branch, comparing his mentor to the wise and enlightened high priest of the Temple of Isis in Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute. Plotz was “an oasis of calm in an ocean of chaos … guiding me through the tenure track.”
To elicit sweet, crowd-pleasing notes as they strum, guitarists need to keep the tension on their guitar strings sufficiently tight, which is adjusted at the tuning gear. Similarly, for you to be able to hear the music—or any other sound—certain strandlike structures in your inner ear need to be pulled tight so they respond to sound vibrations.