NIGMS Plans to Transition the Protein Structure Initiative When Current Awards End

Announcement Date:

The National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) has announced that it does not plan to continue the Protein Structure Initiative (PSI) in its current format after the completion of the 5-year PSI:Biology phase in 2015. This decision takes into consideration recommendations from outside scientists who recently evaluated the program as well as guidance from the National Advisory General Medical Sciences Council.

"A key conclusion of the new evaluation report is that NIGMS should start planning to transition the PSI from a set-aside model to other approaches that address opportunities and challenges in structural biology while preserving any elements of the program that provide significant benefit to the broader scientific community," said NIGMS Director Jon R. Lorsch, Ph.D. "This is congruent with our efforts to examine all of our initiatives, especially the large ones that began during a budget doubling period, as part of a thorough analysis of our grant portfolio and investments," he noted.

The PSI began in 2000 with a 5-year pilot phase to demonstrate the feasibility of high-throughput structure determination—an approach to speed the study of proteins, which can increase understanding of their medically relevant functions. In 2005, the PSI moved into its production phase, in which funded investigators utilized the methods developed during the pilot period to determine many unique protein structures and to continue methods development. PSI:Biology launched in 2010 with the goal of applying high-throughput structure determination to study a broad range of important biological and biomedical problems. Its current total annual budget is about $70 million.

To date, PSI investigators have determined more than 6,300 protein structures, including biologically important—but very challenging to study—membrane proteins, and deposited them in the public domain. This effort has increased our understanding of protein biology, including how individual proteins interact with other molecules, which sheds light on the way drugs may affect those interactions. PSI scientists have also developed more than 400 technologies and methods that streamline the steps of the structure determination process, from preparing samples to analyzing data. Many of these tools are being utilized in labs around the world.

Over the years, the PSI has been shaped by assessments and other input from the scientific community. The most recent evaluation committee, assembled earlier this year, specifically assessed PSI:Biology’s progress toward leveraging structural information to study protein function, key to understanding biological processes and aiding drug discovery.

The evaluation report [PDF, 120KB] notes that the current projects have produced an impressive number of high-quality protein structures and methodological advances that may not have been otherwise achieved. However, the committee found that PSI resources, products and results have been underutilized by the broader scientific community.

To advise on transition planning, the Institute is establishing two committees, one of NIGMS and other NIH staff and one of external scientists from the research community.

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To arrange an interview with NIGMS Director Jon R. Lorsch, Ph.D., contact the NIGMS Office of Communications and Public Liaison at 301-496-7301 or through our contact form.