Now that NHGRI has completed its original mission of sequencing the human genome, the institute should be rolled back into its parent, the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, according to a report issued at the end of July by an Institute of Medicine of the National Academies committee studying the NIH organizational structure.
“It was an unusual way that an institute at NIH is set up,” says Mary Woolley, president and CEO of Research America and a member of the committee. “It was set up to accomplish a specific, extremely difficult — almost mind-bogglingly difficult — task, and did it.” The rest of the 21-member committee hails from the Whitehead Institute, Johns Hopkins University, AAAS, and Stanford University, among other affiliations.
The 137-page report, which analyzed several aspects of NIH organization and also recommended the merger of the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, has no mandate and serves only as a recommendation for NIH to review. Officials at NIH should consider the report’s findings “a possible direction they should explore,” Woolley says, emphasizing that the NAS committee has no power to enforce these recommendations and that it’s possible the committee “didn’t see the big picture.” However, she adds, “if they decide not to do it, they should be prepared to address the points made in favor of [the merger] in the report.”
The committee urges such tactics as a way to avoid “frozen organizational structure,” according to the report. But after April saw the issuance of 15 new grand challenges shaping the future of NHGRI, the genome institute likely won’t be rolled anywhere without much debate.
— Meredith Salisbury