There are 10 times as many bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa–collectively known as the microbiome–living on and inside the human body as there are human cells. Although scientists have been aware of the microbiome for more than 30 years, they knew little about its diversity and role in human health and disease. On December 19, 2007, the NIH launched the Human Microbiome Project (HMP), a two-phased, eight-year, $194 million initiative to support such an effort. The Intramural Research Program has been involved since the get-go and continues to participate.
On October 23, 2013, NIH Director Francis Collins held a town hall meeting in which he condemned the effects of the shutdown that closed the government October 1–16 and idled 75 percent of the NIH workforce. In addition, DDIR Michael Gottesman expressed his concerns about how the shutdown affected the intramural program.
Recovering from the Shutdown: The Toll on Biomedical Research
BY MICHAEL GOTTESMAN, DDIR
NIH is the largest purely biomedical research facility in the world, with about 2,500 individual research projects and close to 1,500 clinical protocols. But during the 16-day federal government shutdown in October, the NIH Intramural Program (IRP) was profoundly affected. Its loss of progress is a big deal.
President Barack Obama met with the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal (Sammies) finalists and winners in the East Room of the White House, October 23, 2013. Receiving the top honor of “Federal Employee of the Year” was the team comprising Deputy Hospital Epidemiologist Julie Segre (NHGRI), David Henderson (CC), Tara Palmore (CC), and Evan Snitkin (NHGRI). The award citation reads: “Stopped the spread of a deadly hospital-acquired infection through the first-ever use of genome sequencing to identify the source and trace the transmission of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, creating a groundbreaking model for the health care industry.”
Proteostasis, a seemingly straightforward fusion of the words “protein” and “homeostasis,” is actually a fertile and multifaceted concept. Ask any 10 scientists to define it, and you’re bound to get 10 different answers, and those opinions may change from year to year. Proteostasis encompasses the study of all areas of protein health and fitness that contribute to maintaining cellular integrity and function. Derailed proteostasis leads to protein misfolding and aggregation that is known or suggested to be implicated in many devastating human disorders.
NEI Scientist Wei Li Finding Strategies for Treating Human Diseases
BY DUSTIN HAYS, NEI
Why is NIH scientist Wei Li studying a fanciful species of ground squirrels to understand the human eye? For one thing, both humans and the thirteen-lined ground squirrel (Spermophilus tridecemlineatus), so named for its beautiful pattern of white stripes, can see in color. That’s something that most mammals can’t do. And when the ground squirrels hibernate, their eyes experience the same kind of metabolic stress that human eyes do when they have certain retinal disorders.
Says NIAID Director Anthony Fauci, One of the First to Study AIDS
BY REBECCA G. BAKER, NIAID
Even though more than four million lives have been saved, “it’s clearly too soon for a victory lap” in the fight against human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and AIDS, said Anthony Fauci, one of the first scientists to begin studying HIV and AIDS when the illness emerged in the early 1980s. A pioneer in understanding human immunological diseases, Fauci has led extensive basic and translational research exploring HIV and AIDS.
Koalas have been a threatened species ever since the British colonization of Australia in the late 1700s. But a new, more insidious danger has emerged in the last century—a cancer-causing virus. Today, leukemia and associated lymphomas are the leading cause of death in koalas in northeastern Australia and in zoos around the world. Surprisingly, some human-related NIH research may help to rescue the adorable creatures. NIMH scientist Maribeth Eiden, is developing viral-based vectors for delivering genetic material to cells in the human central nervous system; her findings may also lead to the optimization of gene-delivery vectors in humans.
FROM THE OFFICE OF INTRAMURAL TRAINING AND EDUCATION
Training to Work Well with Others
BY LORI CONLAN AND SHARON MILGRAM, OD
Nearly two-thirds of scientists surveyed reported that interpersonal conflict had hampered progress on a scientific project one to five times in their career. OITE has developed a program to train scientists to work well with others and manage conflictsso they can accomplish more science.
New Microscopes That Reveal Cellular Processes in 3-D
May Help Scientists Observe How Viruses Attack
BY JESSICA MEADE, NIBIB
NIH researchers have developed two new high-resolution microscopes, both the first of their kind. The first—an instant linear structured illumination microscope (iSIM)—captures high-resolution images of small, fast-moving cellular structures in real time. The second—a dual-view inverted selective plane illumination microscope (diSPIM)—displays large cell samples in three dimensions (3-D) while decreasing the amount of harmful light that cells are exposed to during imaging.
The NIH Library recently introduced a new service, “Custom Information Solutions,” that can customize services and resources to address the specific needs of a group. Customized services include digitizing NIH-created print materials; building databases to support research projects; developing portfolio-analysis reports; and creating customized Web search tools.
Recent intramural discoveries and developments include: enteroviruses need cholesterol to replicate; new drugs could slow progress of fatal disorder; candidate vaccine against respiratory syncytial virus; tanning gene linked to testicular cancer; and molecular structure of amyloid plaques.
Highlights of NIH lectures, events, activities, and awards including winners of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Chemistry on November 18 and 20; Marston Linehan giving the Astute Clinician Lecture on November 20; the Chen Lecture on Innovation and Technology Transfer will be on November 22; three NIHers are new IOM members; and more.