T H E   N I H    C A T A L Y S T      M A R C H  –  A P R I L   2004


adapted from the February 17, 2004, NIH Record
by Rich McManus

She’s Got Them Eating Out of Her Hands: Dale Graham is perhaps uniquely qualified to milk data from somewhat recalcitrant donors–she has for the past 20 years been a llama rancher. Llamas, she notes, "are very intelligent, but not very affectionate" —appearances of affection from Tiercel (left) and Austin City Lights notwithstanding. Graham and her husband (who took the picture) keep 23 llamas on a 20-acre farm 70 miles southwest of Bethesda in Culpeper County, Va., where they have recently finished building their dream house–a log cabin.

"A llama," Graham observes, "is like a 300-pound vegetarian cat. Basically, the way they think is, ‘If it’s their idea, it’s good. If it’s your idea, it’s bad.’"

Such insight equips Graham—who has seen llamas successfully trained to caddy on golf courses and been fascinated for decades with llama "thinking"—to run the NIDB ranch quite nicely.

If a historian were to chart the advance of NIH intramural science, there might be no better resource than the two yearly publications—now grown to a web site—once known as the Annual Reports and the Scientific Directory and Annual Bibliography (SDAB). Initially slim volumes of perhaps 100 pages, they had expanded to many hundreds before their launch into cyberspace in 1998 as the NIH Intramural Database (NIDB).

The NIDB is more robust than anything in print could be; it isn’t limited by the constraint of deadline, nor is its size limited by the capacities of a bindery. It’s managed in CIT’s Division of Enterprise and Custom Applications, and it’s owned by the Office of Intramural Research.

Like its paper predecessor, NIDB still includes annual bibliographies (all papers produced by intramural scientists each year), the scientific directory (of all scientific staff in the intramural programs), and the annual reports describing each principal investigator’s activities, amounting to some 2,500 projects each year. But NIDB also includes an NIH "résumé," which provides NIH research and bibliographic information on all NIH researchers, not just principal and lead investigators.

"We see the NIDB as a key mechanism to enhance collaborations across ICs and to stimulate multidisciplinary research projects," says Joan Schwartz, OIR assistant director and NIDB business manager.

"For me, this is a dream come true," says Michael Gottesman, NIH’s deputy director for intramural research. "It is an enormously valuable tool for accessing the richness of intramural research, not only for our own researchers but for the rest of the world."

For example, one can type "NIDDK PCR" in the "Searching NIH Annual Reports" page to find entries that include both NIDDK personnel and the polymerase chain reaction. Instantly, the first 10 of 13 identified reports surface, listed in order of relevancy. A click on any title discloses principal investigator, lab staff, total staff years dedicated to the project, keywords associated with the project, a summary of the work, and, lastly, publications generated by the research. Many of these citations contain a link to PubMed.

A newcomer to NIH can find his or her intellectual home in moments tapping into the NIDB—one of the reasons CIT’s Dale Graham, the site’s technical manager, likes it so much.

"I used to be a researcher," said Graham, a computational biologist who earned a Ph.D. in molecular biology in 1970, taught and did research at Purdue University, at West Lafayette, Ind., and was a working scientist at NIH from 1980 to 1990. "There’s lots of turnover in research staff at the NIH and by the time you leave, you’re often just getting to know where the good stuff is"—something the "senior guys already know." NIDB, she says, is especially useful for younger workers just finding their niche.

First at NCI working on mammary tumor virus and then at NIDDK studying insulin-like growth factor, Graham was recruited by CIT to do the kind of scientific support work she’s naturally been doing on the side. "I had already been spending lots of time helping fellow researchers with computers and with sequence analysis—I just loved it."

Her expertise in bibliographic software fueled her enthusiasm to convert the august bound volumes of the old Annual Reports and SDAB into the new NIDB. The site today is run by a staff of three, with input from hundreds of intramural scientists.

Graham concedes that NIDB does require some effort on the part of intramural scientists, but she maintains the effort is well worth it—"it lets the world know what we’re working on."

"It seems like gold to me," she says. "It provides a good assessment tool for recruiting; it lets like-minded scientists create their own networks. Anyone can tap into it to see who is working on problems that interest them."

Graham emphasizes an advantage NIDB holds over its paper predecessor—you can ask questions of it. "There are lots of different ways to mine these data," she says. "It’s a good tool for assessing collaborative efforts, or for tracing the progress of a given project over a number of years. The PubMed links included in the bibliographies often lead to full-text articles."

NIDB also allows multiple institutes to share credit for research publications; the paper version only permitted one institute to stake a claim.

It takes a substantial amount of behind-the-scenes geek-work, she divulges, to keep the site working properly. But that has paid off in the site’s recognition as a funded NIH "enterprise project" and in the growing numbers of daily hits, now ranging from 300 to 800.

To see for yourself just how incredibly useful the NIDB site is, do visit.



There are about 1,250 scientists (principal and lead investigators) working in NIH laboratories and clinics and another 3,000 researchers (fellows, postdocs, research assistants, etc.) supporting them. Each year, each scientist must produce one or more annual reports summarizing his or her research activities, including a bibliography of the publications resulting from that research.

In the past, this information was submitted on paper and, in the more recent past, in various electronic forms. The data were manually compiled and reformatted—a time-consuming, error-prone process–and then combined with the data from the Scientific Directory. This huge compendium was then distributed in hard copy within NIH and externally on request (for instance, to Congress).

But in 1998, Dale Graham and crew at CIT created a web-enabled database to streamline the collection, verification, and dissemination of all this NIH intramural research data—the NIH Intramural Database (NIDB). With the click of a mouse, it’s accessible to everyone at NIH and—not to hoard this extremely valuable information—to everyone outside NIH as well.

From this website, users can search through authors’ names, key words, or combination of these. The search can also be restricted by IC and by year of publication. The NIDB provides a framework for uniform data collection, historical evaluation of the NIH intramural research program overall, and IC-specific assessment of ongoing programs and decisions for the future. It currently has the following components:

Annual Reports. Research reports, year by year, of projects maintained by principal and lead investigators. Includes data on approximately 2,500 research projects each year. Fully operational.

Annual Bibliographies. Publications resulting from the NIH intramural programs each year since 1999. Implemented in 2000. Data collection effort still not complete, especially for 1999 to 2001, and for NCI.

Scientific Directory. Lists of all intramural scientific staff members involved in research, classified by organization unit and leadership status, including their NIH intramural professional designations (IPDs). Much of this information is currently collected via the Annual Report, but a stand-alone module is in progress.

NIH Mini-CV. Summaries of all the information held by the NIDB on all NIH researchers, not just principal and lead investigators. It includes the three components above and items such as educational background. Individual researchers can log on and correct/add to the data indicated. Initially implemented in 2003; currently being revamped to improve speed and reliability.

For more information, contact Dale Graham, NIDB technical manager.

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