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Feting the Common Fund

The National Institutes of Health had a little birthday party of sorts to mark the 10th anniversary of the NIH Common Fund, which Director Francis Collins says is having an impact. Funded with 1 percent of the budget from each of NIH's 27 institutes and centers, the Common Fund was created to support multidisciplinary research projects that might be of value to all of these ICs, but which do not fit easily into any one of their portfolios.

At his NIH Director's Blog, Collins says the fund has backed "ambitious" and "innovative" initiatives such as the Human Microbiome project, Big Data to Knowledge, Extracellular RNA, Epigenomics, Nanomedicine, Undiagnosed Diseases, and high-risk, high-reward research grants to scientists working in a range of areas.

"Some of these advances have already transformed the way we do science and expanded our understanding of human health and disease —and others are sure to do so in the future," Collins writes.

He highlights the Human Microbiome Project, saying that in its first phase characterized microbes living in nasal passages, oral cavities, the gastrointestinal and urogenital tracts, and on human skin.

"The first phase of this project gave us a census of many of the microbes living in and on us, revolutionizing the way we view ourselves. No longer can we think of ourselves as isolated organisms," he says. "Rather, each one of us is an ecosystem teeming with microbes that influence our health status in ways we’re only beginning to appreciate."

To fete the fund, NIH held the Common Fund Symposium on Friday, which featured a talk by former Director Elias Zerhouni, who oversaw its creation and launch, and highlighted winners of the Common Fund video competition.

Collins, Zerhouni, and Elizabeth Wilder also jointly penned a letter in Science that offers more details about the sorts of projects the fund has fueled so far, and some of the challenges it has faced.

Collins also links to a videocast of the symposium.