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The National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) primarily supports research that lays the foundation for advances in disease diagnosis, treatment and prevention. The Institute's research training programs help prepare the next generation of scientists.

NIGMS is one of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the principal medical research agency of the Federal Government. NIH is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Each year, NIGMS-supported scientists make many advances in understanding fundamental life processes. In the course of answering basic research questions, these investigators increase our knowledge about the mechanisms and pathways involved in certain diseases. Institute grantees also develop important new tools and techniques, some of which have medical applications. In recognition of the significance of their work, a number of NIGMS grantees have received the Nobel Prize and other high scientific honors.

NIGMS is organized into divisions that support research and research training in a range of scientific fields. Major areas in which these units fund research are listed below their names:

Division of Biomedical Technology, Bioinformatics, and Computational Biology

  • Biomedical technology and software development
  • Cell and molecular modeling and simulation
  • Computational genomics
  • Database design and enhancement
  • High-throughput data analysis
  • Systems biology

Division of Cell Biology and Biophysics

  • Analytical and separation techniques
  • Biophysical properties of proteins and nucleic acids
  • Cell organization, motility and division
  • Cellular imaging
  • Membrane structure and function
  • Molecular biophysics
  • Single-molecule biophysics and nanoscience
  • Spectroscopic techniques
  • Structural biology
  • Structural genomics and proteomics

Division of Genetics and Developmental Biology

  • Chromosome organization and mechanics
  • Developmental biology and genetics
  • DNA replication, recombination and repair
  • Epigenetics
  • Genetic basis of human biology
  • Neurogenetics and the genetics of behavior
  • Population genetics, evolution and the genetics of complex traits
  • Protein synthesis
  • Regulation of cell growth, cell division, cell death and differentiation
  • Regulation of cellular processes by signaling
  • RNA transcription and processing
  • Stem cell biology

Division of Pharmacology, Physiology, and Biological Chemistry

  • Anesthesiology
  • Biochemistry
  • Bioenergetics and mitochondrial physiology
  • Biotechnology and metabolic engineering
  • Chemical biology and bio-inorganic chemistry
  • Drug absorption, distribution, metabolism, excretion and predictive toxicology
  • Enzymology
  • Glycomics and glycosciences
  • Molecular immunobiology
  • Pharmacogenomics                
  • Pharmacology and clinical pharmacology
  • Physiology
  • Synthetic chemistry
  • Sepsis
  • Trauma, burn injury and wound healing

Division of Training, Workforce Development, and Diversity

  • Undergraduate student training and development
  • Post-baccalaureate research education
  • Predoctoral research training
  • Postdoctoral research training, development and transition to independence
  • Career development
  • Faculty research development
  • Research on interventions for workforce development
  • Capacity-building research and resources in states that have historically not received significant levels of NIH research funding

NIGMS was established in 1962. In Fiscal Year 2012, the Institute's budget was $2.4 billion. The vast majority of this money goes into local economies through grants to scientists at universities, medical schools, hospitals and other research institutions throughout the country. At any given time, NIGMS supports nearly 4,700 research grants—approximately 11 percent of the grants funded by NIH as a whole.

The Institute places great emphasis on supporting investigator-initiated research grants. It funds a limited number of research center grants in selected fields, including structural biology, chemistry, computational modeling, trauma and burn research, systems biology and biomedical technology. It also supports centers that build research capacities in states that have historically received low levels of NIH funding. In addition, NIGMS supports several important scientific resources, including the NIGMS Human Genetic Cell Repository and the Protein Data Bank Link to external Web site.

NIGMS has initiatives in structural genomics (the Protein Structure Initiative), pharmacogenomics and computational modeling of infectious disease outbreaks. The Institute also promotes the collaborative approaches increasingly needed to solve complex problems in biomedical science.

NIGMS research training programs recognize the interdisciplinary nature of biomedical research and stress approaches that cut across disciplinary and departmental lines. Such experience prepares trainees to pursue creative research careers in a wide variety of areas.

Certain NIGMS training programs address areas in which there are particularly compelling needs. One of these, the Medical Scientist Training Program, produces investigators who hold the combined M.D.-Ph.D. degree and are well trained in both basic science and clinical research. Other programs train scientists to conduct research in rapidly growing areas like biotechnology and at the interfaces between fields such as chemistry and biology and behavioral and biomedical sciences.

NIGMS also has a Postdoctoral Research Associate Program, in which postdoctoral scientists receive training in NIH or Food and Drug Administration laboratories.

NIGMS houses the NIH Office of Emergency Care Research, which coordinates and fosters basic, clinical and transitional emergency care research and research training across NIH.

Selected Advances

Among the advances that scientists have made with NIGMS support are:

  • - Discovering a gene-silencing process called RNA interference, or RNAi, that is both a powerful research tool and a promising new approach for treating diseases.
  • - Revealing how a protein's shape affects its function, which plays a key role in health and disease and also informs the design of new drugs.
  • - Increasing survival from burn injury, in part by improving methods of wound care, nutrition and infection control.
  • - Shedding light on the critical functions of carbohydrates, sugar molecules found on all living cells that are vital to fertilization, inflammation, blood clotting and viral infection.
  • - Modeling infectious disease outbreaks and the impact of interventions through computer simulations to provide valuable information to public health policymakers.
  • - Developing new methods to look inside cells and other living systems. These approaches have advanced what we know about basic life processes in a range of organisms.
This page last reviewed on December 6, 2012