Washington Update

ACD Meeting Includes Working Group and Information Science Updates

By: Yvette Seger, Nabila Riaz, and Naomi Charalambakis
Wednesday, June 26, 2024
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD) convened on June 13-14 to discuss various science policy topics. As part of her Director’s report, Monica Bertagnolli, MD, highlighted how NIH is addressing opportunities related to postdoctoral training, diversity, and novel alternative methods (NAMs). Each of these topics holds dedicated ACD working groups charged with identifying ongoing challenges and developing recommendations for resolution.  

To start, ACD members received updates on the recommendations from the Advisory Committee to the Director Working Group on Re-envisioning NIH-Supported Postdoctoral Training. Bertagnolli informed ACD members that NIH has increased stipends and childcare subsidies for predoctoral and postdoctoral scholars supported by NIH Kirschstein National Research Service Awards (NRSAs). However, NIH plans to gradually raise stipend levels over the next three to five years to reach the ACD's recommended minimum of $70,000. NIH is finalizing a request for information (RFI) to gather input on implementing the ACD working group recommendations. Additionally, NIH plans to form implementation teams to address high-priority recommendations, including supporting the full talent pool of postdoctoral scholars, enhancing training and professional development for postdocs and their mentors, and facilitating the transition of postdocs into the next career stage.

Additionally, Bertagnolli provided an update on the RFI seeking input on proposed revisions to the NIH mission statement in response to guidance from the ACD Working Group on Diversity Subgroup on Individuals with Disabilities issued in fall 2023. Bertagnolli noted that of the 480 comments received, 40 percent expressed opposition to the proposed changes and expressed support to retain reference to disability within the statement. In response, NIH plans to do additional engagement with the disability community in the coming months to develop a more representative mission statement.

Since accepting the recommendations from the ACD working group on Catalyzing the Development and Use of NAMs in February, Bertagnolli indicated that implementation is well underway. First, NIH is adjusting the acronym for NAMs to mean “New Approach Methods” rather than “Novel Alternative Methods” to improve public understanding and align definitions with other federal agencies. NIH has also prioritized each of the recommendations outlined in the final report, assessing their feasibility and determining which institute or center is best suited to lead implementation efforts. 

Two presentations during the meeting highlighted the importance of information science to furthering NIH research. Sean Mooney, PhD, Director of the NIH Center for Information Technology (CIT), provided an overview of how CIT currently serves the NIH community and highlighted gaps that could help the center become even more efficient in the digital age. He noted that unlike other NIH institutes and centers, CIT does not have an advisory body. To resolve this, the ACD approved establishment of a new Working Group on Information Technology, Cyberinfrastructure, and Cybersecurity (ITCC) charged with providing critical input on NIH IT and cybersecurity governance, including articulating high-priority areas for NIH investment, providing insight on and evaluating new data generating tools and platforms, and identify gaps, challenges, and opportunities on issues related to a national biomedical cyberinfrastructure. In a subsequent presentation, Bertagnolli highlighted the application of information science and establishment of data communities to solidify the National Library of Medicine as the data science hub to connect NIH-funded research activities to health care delivery.