NIH signals more interest in biomolecular condensates

Jill Bouchard

Editor in Chief,

Published April 10, 2020

More good news for condensates scientists: On March 25, the NIH posted a notice of special interest (NOSI) calling for more research on biomolecular condensates and their role in HIV and/or substance abuse. The announcement follows a request for applications (RFA) announced by the agency on February 24.

While both announcements highlight HIV research, “the NOSI is scientifically broader than the RFA and additionally covers [substance use disorder]-only and neuroscience research that is likely not to be a major focus of applications submitted to the RFA,” explained John Saterlee, a program officer at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which issued both announcements. The RFA “provides an opportunity to try and identify if biomolecular condensates are doing something cool in HIV biology,” Saterlee said, and the NOSI, among other things, “provides an immediate way for any applications that do poorly in the RFA (but can be improved upon) to be submitted as investigator-initiated R21 or R01 applications.”

The NOSI encourages scientists to submit applications through existing R01, R21, or R03 programs; R01 grants give researchers who already have preliminary data 4-5 years of “unlimited” support, whereas R21s and R03s are more exploratory and provide shorter, smaller awards. The RFA, on the other hand, opens up new grant opportunities, using a phased R21/R33 approach. As the announcement describes it, “The R21/R33 grant mechanism includes an exploratory high risk/high pay off R21 phase (two years). Near the end of the R21 phase, NIDA scientific staff will review progress made towards the proposed R21 milestones and recommend a subset of R21 projects for continued support through the R33 phase (up to three additional years).”

Together, the two announcements—the first from the NIH to directly focus on biomolecular condensates—demonstrate that NIDA sees condensates as a “really really interesting area,” said Satterlee. Researchers who share that view can check out the full NOSI here and the full RFA here.

Applications related to the NOSI are due between June 5, 2020 and September 8, 2023. Applications in response to the RFA are due between June 20 and July 20 of this year.

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