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Report of the Blue Ribbon Panel on the Intramural Research Program of the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research

Introduction

The first National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) Blue Ribbon Panel (BRP) was convened by Institute Director Harold Slavkin in 1995 to review and make recommendations on the future activities of the Intramural Program (IRP). This external review of an NIH intramural research program was the first undertaken by any NIH Institute and helped to establish the mechanism by which all NIH IRPs are now periodically evaluated. The first BRP report contained a series of recommendations that has helped to guide IRP activities for the past decade.

 

Charge to the Panel

The second NIDCR BRP met in Bethesda on Feb. 26-28, 2006, initiating the second round of NIH IRP reviews. Its purpose was to provide the NIDCR with advice about future scientific directions that have already been identified, emerging opportunities within these areas of research, and the correspondence between current scientific personnel and resources with the future directions proposed within these areas. The specific charge to the BRP includes an IRP-wide evaluation of the following elements:

 

  • Innovation/impact of new research initiatives
  • Recruitment issues related to new IRP scientists, including under-represented individuals and missing areas of expertise
  • Optimal balance between intramural and extramural funding research directions
  • Integration of laboratory and clinical research
  • Basic organization of the IRP
  • Quality of post-doctoral training and career development
  • Effectiveness of the Board of Scientific Counselors review process
  • Collaboration and interaction within the IRP, with other NIH IRPs, and the extramural community
  • Interactions with the Office of the Director, other Institutes, central services, and special problems and opportunities

New Initiatives

Four new initiatives were proposed that would organize and guide the future research activities of the IRP. They include basic, translational and clinical components. These initiatives were generated primarily by self-assembly of current IRP investigators, and are conceptual in nature at the present time. They include:

 

  • Salivary Biology
  • Skeleton and Associated Structures
  • Craniofacial Tissue Remodeling
  • Sensory Neuroscience

Each area is expected to meet the following criteria: outstanding quality; high-risk/high impact; unique niche that does not compete with extramural community; collaborative across traditional disciplines; inclusion of basic, translational, and clinical components.

There was:

  • High enthusiasm for the Salivary Biology and Craniofacial Tissue Remodeling initiatives as proposed
  • Moderate enthusiasm for the Skeleton and Associated Structures Initiative
  • Low enthusiasm for the Sensory Neuroscience Initiative

The full evaluations are included in the Appendix. It is recommended that well focused implementation plans be developed for the two strongest initiatives. The other two initiatives should be rethought and/or reformulated in accordance with the comments of the BRP.

Recruitment

The number of IRP scientists has declined by approximately 25% over the past several years, providing an opportunity to reshape the IRP. It is anticipated that five or more outstanding new tenure track investigators will be recruited over the next few years. These individuals will significantly impact the success of the new initiatives as well as the long-term vigor of the IRP. However, there will be stiff competition for top-flight scientific talent from the extramural community, which will necessitate a proactive approach to recruitment. It is recommended that:

 

  • Candidates be aggressively sought by advertisement, direct contacts with training programs in the U.S. and abroad, and by targeting leading researchers for recruitment
  • Recruits be targeted for expertise in a given research area e.g. salivary gland biology. However scientists working in related areas (e.g. branching morphogenesis in another glandular system, epithelial cell polarity or cellular trafficking) who would be willing to extend their studies into the targeted area should also be considered
  • One or more clinical-translational scientists be recruited to provide critical mass to this effort
  • The resources and career development opportunities for IRP researchers at NIDCR be highlighted to promote recruitments
  • A concerted effort be made to target under-represented minorities

Balance of Research Portfolio

The emphasis of the NIH Roadmap on interdisciplinary research, and the translation of basic science for the benefit of the public health, will shape the nation’s scientific landscape for the foreseeable future. The NIDCR has already implemented programs that bring together basic, translational and clinical research in the salivary biology and bone biology research areas. It is recommended that:

 

  • This integrated research approach continue to be emphasized through the development of the strongest of the new initiatives
  • Well-focused implementation plans be developed for these initiatives, and that weaker initiatives be re-formulated or dropped
  • Efforts be made to integrate existing microbiology and immunology faculty into the new initiatives as scientifically appropriate
  • Communication and opportunities for collaboration and translation be emphasized between the IRP basic science laboratories and the Clinical Research group, through mechanisms such as grand rounds presentations and the new initiatives
  • NIDCR seek to increase its use of the Clinical Center for translational initiatives
  • The strong commitment to truly outstanding basic science within the IRP continue
  • The IRP focus on high-risk, high reward science that complements rather than competes with research being done in the extramural community
  • NIDCR mission relevance be considered in all recruitments and allocations of resources
  • Additional mechanisms and incentives be developed to enhance collaborations with the extramural community
  • The trend toward reducing the IRP budget continue, with the goal of bringing it into line with that of other NIH ICs (approximately 10%)

Organization of the IRP

The recent efforts by the SD to increase inter-Branch and -laboratory communication and collaboration, and to reduce the silo structure and insularity of the IRP are laudable. It is recommended that:

 

  • New mechanisms be developed to increase communication and collaboration within the IRP, including yearly retreats, seminar series, shared instruments and core facilities, and incentives such as an innovation fund to develop research projects across traditional boundaries
  • While some internal structure is needed for administrative purposes, the existing Branches/Labs should be de-emphasized in favor of the new initiative groupings
  • The scientific leadership of the new initiatives be recruited from the extramural community, or be allowed to emerge through ‘natural selection’ from the existing staff
  • An Assistant Scientific Director be recruited to assist Dr. Angerer in leading the IRP

Training

The training of the next generation of outstanding scientists and clinician-scientists is a critical mission of NIDCR. The IRP can provide an outstanding environment for this training, and thereby help to meliorate the research manpower needs of the extramural community, particularly U.S. dental schools. In order to take full advantage of this environment, it is recommended that:
 
  • The recruitment of post-doctoral fellows be standardized and centralized, with high priority placed on recruiting U.S. citizens and permanent residents who are likely to remain within academia in this country. Individuals with dental training and minorities should be emphasized
  • Post-doctoral mentoring within the IRP laboratories be actively supported and promoted, with close monitoring of productivity and evaluation of progress
  • Post-doctoral seminar series be developed and promoted within NIDCR along with other forums for scientific communication
  • The career development of fellows be strongly supported, including the development of independence, oral presentation and grant writing skills
  • PIs who mentor post-doc fellows be held accountable for their training, evaluation and career development
  • A sabbatical policy be instituted that provides for experiences of NIDCR staff in the extramural community
  • Consideration be given to reinitiating the Oral Medicine Training Program
  • The Office of Education be reorganized to take a proactive leadership role in implementing these recommendations

Program Review

The Board of Scientific Counselors (BSC) conducts periodic reviews of all IRP Branches and Laboratories. It is made up of regular and ad hoc Members, the latter with specific expertise in the research area of the Branch/Lab under review. These reviews are a critically important mechanism for maintaining and improving the quality of the IRP. It is recommended that:

 

  • Mission relevance and training be accorded greater weight in BSC evaluations
  • The calibration and standardization of BSC evaluations be improved, to allow more equitable comparisons of quality among the different Branches/Labs
  • Additional senior clinician-scientists be added to the BSC regular membership to assist in the evaluation of the mission relevance of the science, particularly the new translational research initiatives
  • More frequent review cycles be considered for all programs. PIs/programs with sub-standard evaluations continue to be reviewed more frequently

Core and Support Facilities

An outstanding research environment requires state of the art technology and support facilities to maximize productivity. While the NIDCR IRP is resource-rich in many areas, a number of gaps and inefficiencies were identified. It is recommended that:

 

  • Easy access to genomics and proteomics be obtained through centralized NIH or shared multi-IC facilities, or via commercial sources
  • A survey be conducted to identify other pressing infrastructure needs and an implementation plan be developed to meet them
  • Mouse costs be dramatically reduced through direct charges to investigators
  • Centralization of administrative support functions be explored to more efficiently deal with the NIH bureaucracy
  • The effectiveness of existing core facilities be evaluated, and those that are inefficient be replaced with other vendors if necessary

Implementation

It was noted by the BRP that the present report echoes some of the concerns and recommendations of the first BRP. In particular, the issues of collaboration/communication among the IRP Branches/Laboratories, interactions with the extramural community, and training were highlighted previously, but these concerns remain to the present day. It is clear that cultural and other barriers to successful implementation of recommendations exist in these areas. It is recommended that these barriers be identified, and that implementation strategies be devised to address and circumvent them.

 

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This page last updated: February 26, 2014