Major news out of NIH…

Story is behind the firewall at the Chronicle, here. Short version–in a time of scarcity, NIH is taking a serious look at the Howard Hughes model of funding people as opposed to projects. All well and good, but my sense is that the potential budget deal developing in Congress may ameliorate some of the suffering…either by removing the sequester for the NIH or by allowing greater flexibility about where the cuts take place. Stay tuned…

HHMI’s President Robert Tjian on supporting life science in these times…

His open letter is here. I think Peter Thiel would be glad to see HHMI out there supporting life sciences…even as things get difficult.

Tjian makes the point that HHMI has agility and independence going for it. To that I would also add they also have a very strong dose of meritocracy.

Supporting the very best scientists is the key thing. Note how different that is from trying to forecast programmatic scientific success.

Flexner II Continued: AAMC/HHMI report on medical school training

Money quote:

The report, “Scientific Foundations for Future Physicians,” is based on recommendations from a 22-member committee of researchers, physicians, and science educators.

The committee members hope that by focusing on a dynamic set of competencies, rather than specific courses, they will open the door to more innovation in both premedical and medical curricula, and make it easier for premeds to take a variety of nonscience, liberal-arts courses.

DIADEM Challenge

The Krasnow Institute, HHMI and the Allen Institute for Brain Science announced a grand challenge project today–to create better tools for image analysis.

Money quote:

The organizers hope the DIADEM Challenge—short for Digital Reconstruction of Axonal and Dendritic Morphology—will lead to innovative solutions to a frustrating problem that has slowed efforts to create a functional atlas of the brain. Neuroscientists agree that a systematic characterization of neurons with their dendrites and axons is essential, since these tree-like structures are highly correlated with the electric activity of, and precise connections between, neurons and are thus linked to the functions of specific brain circuits. But scientists currently spend weeks—and, in some cases, months—tracing the intricate neuronal processes by hand, using data supplied by imaging studies.


Janelia East

Noah Gray’s blog at Nature Network comments on “the future construction of a brand new neuroscience research institute based at University College London”.

Karel Svoboda used the term “Janelia East” to characterize it.

Interestingly, Noah refers to hiring issues at Janelia “West”. Money quote:

JFRC has been around for longer and has gone through this hiring cycle a few times. They have slowly brought in a mix of established and newish investigators and have put together quite a fabulous team. However, the fact that they are still advertising for positions 2-3 years on (having been through quite a few cycles of interviewing and job offers at this point) suggests that these innovative, passionate scientists they are striving to hire are either reluctant to come, or are simply not out there in droves.

Therefore, once these new European ventures are online, they may run into a similar personnel problem that is plaguing Janelia. Perhaps this will not be the case. The UCL center has quite a lot going for it, being associated with a world-class university, and also being smack-dab in the middle of a major international city. This can only help with recruitment. It will be interesting to see if in a few years, whether the UCL center fills its new buildings with researchers any faster than Janelia has filled its beautiful glimmering glass-walled laboratories. But even if recruitment problems do not arise, this concept got me thinking about how to best match specific research goals with the individual labs that will actually conduct the work.