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NIH Initiatives Seek to Enhance Biomedical Workforce, Big Data Capabilities

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The National Institutes of Health on Friday unveiled several new initiatives it will undertake with the goal of strengthening biomedical research and sustaining the global competitiveness of the US scientific community.

The new initiatives are a response to recommendations made earlier this year by the NIH's Advisory Committee to the Director and aim to bolster the biomedical research workforce and improve the capabilities for handling, managing, and sharing data being created by such research.

"The future of biomedical research depends upon our ability to support a research ecosystem that leverages the flood of biomedical data, strengthens the research workforce through diversity, and attracts the next generation of researchers," NIH Director Francis Collins said in a statement on Friday, just after the closing of a two-day meeting of NIH leaders and the ACD.

One of the new efforts NIH has launched is the Big Data to Knowledge (BD2K) initiative, which seeks to improve policies for sharing data and software and for cataloguing data. It will take steps to develop data and metadata standards to facilitate broader use of biomedical big data, create analysis methods and software, provide enhanced training for biomedical big data, and propose new centers of excellence.

NIH also said that it plans to launch an NIH InfrastructurePLUS program to advance high-performance computing, hosting, and storage approaches, and to modernize the NIH network.

In an effort to strengthen the biomedical workforce, NIH plans to start a new grants program to support innovative new approaches for research training programs for graduate students and postdoctoral researchers, and it plans to encourage the adoption of individual development programs for trainees.

The institutes also will consider increasing support for training mechanisms aimed especially at helping younger researchers establish independent careers, including the NIH Pathway to Independence and Early Independence Awards. In addition, NIH said that it wants to increase its emphasis on conducting ongoing assessments of the biomedical research workforce and conducting a follow-up study on clinical scientists.

Another initiative will aim to identify and track graduate students and postdoctoral researchers supported by NIH to provide a better assessment of workforce needs and to plan for future training activities.

NIH also plans to take several steps to enhance the diversity of the biomedical research workforce. These measures include a new program called Building Infrastructure Leading to Diversity (BUILD) that will provide mentoring and support for undergraduates at participating schools, as well as financial support for those seeking biomedical research careers. NIH also would establish a National Research Mentoring Network to connect students, postdoc fellows, and faculty with experienced mentors. The institutes also would seek to promote fairness in peer review through interventions that include implicit bias and diversity awareness training for scientific review officers and members of review panels.

NIH also plans to recruit a chief diversity officer to coordinate efforts designed to enhance diversity as well as establish an NIH steering committee working group on diversity to ensure that diversity remains a core consideration of NIH governance.