The SIG Beat

News from and About the NIH Scientific Interest Groups

SCIG Stem Cell Research Symposium

More than 400 NIH scientists and others flocked to the Stem Cell Research Symposium held on NIH’s Bethesda campus on July 14, 2011. Co-sponsored by the NIH Center for Regenerative Medicine (NIH-CRM) and the Stem Cell Interest Group (SCIG), the symposium was a forum for scientists to share research findings and explore potential collaborations. Speakers and attendees discussed manipulating cell plasticity for therapeutic purposes; analyzing chromatin and telomere structural changes; and finding ways to better focus clinical studies via genetic sequencing and advanced animal models.

The meeting commenced with an industry overview by former NIH scientist Mahendra Rao, who until recently was vice president of regenerative medicine at Life Technologies (Carlsbad, Calif.). “This field is rapidly moving into the mainstream” of medical treatment, Rao declared. The event turned celebratory when NIH Director Francis Collins introduced Rao as the new director of the NIH-CRM. Collins stressed the need to “spur on the stem cell initiative and increase medicine’s ability to more personalize research and treatment efforts.” Rao’s term as director began in early August (see article).

Other presenters noted the increasing cooperation among researchers, collaborative grant support, and ongoing interdepartmental clinical trials. Talks by Pam Robey (chief of NIDCR’s Cranial and Skeletal Diseases Branch and co-coordinator of the Bone Marrow Stromal Cell Transplantation Center) and Cynthia Dunbar (head of NHLBI’s Molecular Hematopoiesis Section) highlighted advances and the accelerating bench-to-bedside process.

The SCIG strives to facilitate communication between intramural and extramural scientists in the field of stem cell biology. To learn more about this group, visit or contact Scott Lipnick ( or Megan Laycock (

Sweet Progress in the Glycosciences

Recent developments in techniques and technology have spurred exponential growth in glycobiology, the scientific study of carbohydrates. On June 15, 2011, NIH scientists met at the fourth annual NIH and FDA Glycosciences Research Day to discuss the progress that has been made in understanding cellular carbohydrates.

Attaching the right sequence of complex sugar molecules onto proteins is a process known as glycosylation. Incorrect glycosylation of mammalian cells can cause deleterious effects in many diseases; these incorrect glycan structures can be used as biomarkers for diagnosing disease. The correct glycosylation of pathogens can make them more virulent and help them evade the immune system.

Many of the researchers attending the event were glycobiologsts by training. Others became glycobiologists out of necessity. Speakers from several disciplines underscored the need for technologies that support fundamental research to further our understanding of glycans.

The Glycobiology Interest Group brings together scientists from laboratories at NIH, FDA, Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore), and other local universities. It serves as catalyst for collaborations and as a training program for young scientists interested in the glycosciences. To learn more, visit or contact Pam Marino (