T H E   N I H    C A T A L Y S T MAY  -  JUNE   1 9 9 7 


Michael Gottesman
. . . . as the growth of the intramural research budget has flattened, our research resources have become increasingly precious, prompting us to take a hard look at the functioning and cost of these shared services . . . .

We often say that the large size of the intramural program provides a critical mass of
scientific know-how and allows us to realize economies of scale because we can share expensive or unique services. Organizations such as the Division of Computer Research and Technology (DCRT), the Office of Research Services (ORS), and the intramural portion of the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR) - including the Bioengineering and Instrumentation Program (BEIP), the Veterinary Resources Program (VRP), the NIH Library, and the Medical Arts and Photography Branch - were established originally to provide high-quality services at reasonable cost and convenience. But now, as the growth of the intramural research budget has flattened, our research resources have become increasingly precious, prompting us to take a hard look at the functioning and cost of these shared services and to rethink how we will provide these services in the future.

Last fall, I established a shared resources subcommittee (SRS) of the Board of Scientific Directors, chaired by Edward Korn (scientific director, NHLBI) and Arthur Levine (scientific director, NICHD), to begin this effort. The SRS has given me a preliminary report, and we have begun to implement some of the recommendations. First, the committee strongly endorses the need for shared resources at NIH and points out the important role that support staff within these programs have played in the intramural program. However, in some cases, pooled money (management funds) intended to support shared resources was being used to support independent research programs. The committee has strongly advised that management funds intended to support shared services should not be used to hire and support fully independent scientists. NIH has endorsed this principle. Where such hiring has occurred, the independent staff should be transferred to institute intramural programs where appropriate funding and scientific oversight for their programs can be provided. This does not mean that someone hired to provide a support service cannot work collaboratively with other NIH scientists, or that the director of a shared facility cannot have some funds to carry on research activities, but that their independent research activities should be a small percentage of their effort.

Given this principle, the SRS has recommended that some investigators in DCRT be transferred to NICHD and that the In Vivo NMR Center, in which a large amount of original, independent imaging research occurs, be transferred to NINDS. Currently, many different institutes use the NMR Center's equipment and services, and we will develop a charter that specifies NINDS' obligation to guarantee imaging access for users from all institutes. The SRS is also reviewing other central services and formulating recommendations about their organizational location and structure.

The need for new shared resources arises from time to time, and one of the subcommittee's tasks is figuring out how to provide them as needed - but not necessarily in perpetuity. The idea of using a lead institute to initiate a new program that can serve as a shared resource seems practical and has a history of success at NIH. The Pilot Plant (NIDDK) and the Protein Expression Lab (NIAMS) follow this model. This year, NHGRI offered to be the lead institute for a megabase sequencing facility for use by the intramural program: the NIH Intramural Sequencing Center (NISC; see box on page 9), will be established this summer and will provide high-throughput sequencing and informatics for intramural projects deemed of scientific merit. Almost all of our intramural programs have decided to provide start-up funds for NISC, and sequencing will be done on a fee-for-service basis beginning in late summer. No permanent personnel will staff NISC, so if the technology becomes outmoded, or the need no longer exists, the program can be discontinued with minimal financial loss. Some of the services provided by the NIH facility at Frederick and some of our transgenic animal facilities also use this concept of a lead institute with fee-for-service charges.

My office wants to encourage development of the best possible portfolio of shared resources at NIH, but I need to know what shared services you think we need - and don't need. I will use the SRS to vet the ideas, and together we will devise ways to make the services available as quickly as possible. One recent example was the suggestion by Mike Lenardo (NIAID) that we have an on-line, intranet-accessible database of sharable equipment and surplus materials. NCRR has created this database: <http://www.ncrr.nih.gov/sharedbc/sharetop.htm>.

Talk to your scientific directors about establishing lead agency status for existing services you think you can provide or that should be provided to the intramural community. If your scientific director cannot help you, let me know what you have in mind, and we will see what we can do.

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