NIH Wants You

April 13, 2004

Taking advantage of the downtown Washington location of its March 1 meeting, the SIAM Committee on Science Policy invited several guests from federal agencies to meet with the group. Among them was Gregory Farber of the National Center for Research Resources at the National Institutes of Health. NIH is not the first agency that comes to mind for most in the SIAM community, which was part of the motivation for Farber's visit.

With a good understanding of the workings of the intricately vast NIH (actually 27 quasi-autonomous institutes) and of the ways in which it differs from an agency like the National Science Foundation, Farber discussed the current call at NIH for greater involvement of the mathematical sciences, and especially computational science and engineering, in biomedical research.

Interactions between biomedical and computational scientists are too infrequent, he said, and in the interdisciplinary teams that do form, the computational people usually get involved far too late in the life of the research projects. Farber easily identified areas in which the participation of mathematical and computational scientists would make a difference. In imaging, he said, it's now impossible to bring scans of the same patient, obtained with, say, MRI machines from different manufacturers, into register (not to mention scans of other types---ultrasound, perhaps). Another NIH interest familiar to the SIAM community is the three-dimensional folded conformation of proteins, and the way they interact with other proteins, drugs, and molecules of other types. The NIH approach, Farber explained, is embodied in the "protein structure initiative": Rather than trying to determine how particular amino acid sequences will fold, he said, NIH researchers are attempting to characterize all the protein types.

Most NIH opportunities for the SIAM community lie in the cross-cutting institutes and programs (of which the National Center for Research Resources is an example). To help connect the SIAM community with appropriate NIH programs, Farber and colleagues will attend the 2004 SIAM Annual Meeting, which will be held July 12-16 in Portland, Oregon, in conjunction with the SIAM Conference on the Life Sciences (July 11-14). Meanwhile, several Web sites should be useful for interested readers:

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