All the news that’s fit to post.   Leave a comment

A lot has happened since my last post- I’ve been analyzing the data from the experiment, I heard back from NIH regarding my R15 application, and I’ve been taking lots of interesting photos. Each of these merits their own post, so for now I’ll just summarize things:

Experiment: The experiment was fairly straightforward- expose confluent monolayers of renal epithelial cells to fluid flow and see what happens when the flow changes. The “read-outs” I measured were: transepithelial sodium current, cell counting, and protein localization.

The sodium current is a readout that I measure while the cells are alive- I put them in a special device and measure how much current is passing through the cell layer. Conceptually, it’s similar to patch clamping, but it monitors the behavior of the entire cell layer rather than a single ion channel. This read-out relates to the function of the cells (fine tuning of sodium resorption).

The other read-outs happen after I kill the cells. I can see the actin cytoskeleton, the microtubules, two proteins of interest (STAT6 and polycystin-2) and the nucleus. Low-magnification images of the monolayer are used to count cells (by imaging the nuclei), and high magnification image stacks are generated to look at the 3D distribution of those other proteins.

I’m seeing some new information (which is good: new information = publication), but it’s not clear what I can really post here, since there are certain rules that come into play when submitting results to a journal. So for now, all I’ll say is that there are some really intriguing results that confirm and explain some of the results we published earlier (the Biophysical Journal paper), and some results that can help understand certain processes in the adult kidney.

Now, the NIH story: I submitted a R15 proposal to NIH about the same time as my NSF CAREER proposal. I found out a couple of weeks ago that my R15 was “favorably reviewed”, meaning that the reviewers liked it. Yesterday I got the actual reviews and additional detailed information. Overall, on a scale of 10-90, 10 being the top, my proposal scored a 25- this means the proposal was very significant (meaning the research is important to the goals of NIH), and there are no significant weaknesses. This is good news!

However, it doesn’t mean the proposal will get funded- that depends on a whole new set of criteria- namely, how my proposal ranks as compared to the other R15 proposals, and how much money NIH has to spend on R15 proposals. NIH has a lot of money, but they have even more types of grants they support. So at least three things can happen- it’s possible my score of 25 is not all that amazing when compared to the other R15 proposals; it could be the *average* score, for example. So I need to know my percentile rank- how my proposal compared to all the other R15 proposals. The second criteria is how much money NIH will commit to R15 proposals. the R15 award is a smaller program (meaning not as many) than the R01 program- R01 awards are the bread-and-butter of biomedical researchers. So, it’s possible that even if my proposal is in the top 10% of all R15 proposals, NIH may decide that it only has enough money to fund the top 5 proposals. The third outcome I can think of is the desired one- I get funded. So I’m still in limbo- a supportive form of limbo, since my proposal was scored well, but limbo nonetheless.

I mentioned in an earlier post about how the business of scientific grants is maddening, and how I’ve seen the effects on people. The competition for grants is exceedingly high; as the level of perfection increases, the only way to differentiate between “outstanding” and “excellent” proposals is to rely on ever more minor differences- things that the PI may not have any control over (like how supportive the ‘environment’ is). It’s not fair that one person is funded while another is not simply because one person got a better letter of support, but that’s the reality. Here’s another reality- I submitted very similar research proposals to NSF and NIH (and I disclosed this in the applications). Each proposal was reviewed by 3 people. Two of the NSF reviews were lukewarm in their enthusiasm, and the third thought it was so bad they didn’t even write a critique. By contrast, two of the NIH reviewers thought the proposal was very strong, while the third essentially wrote that it was the best proposal they had ever seen. Same proposal- one reviewer gave it an ‘F’, and another gave it an ‘A+’.

Again, let me reiterate that I have had an excellent experience with reviewers- even the ones who don’t like my proposals have offered useful critiques that have helped me improve my proposals over time- I wouldn’t have gotten a good score today if not for the bad scores in the past. Reviewing proposals is tough work, and I appreciate the time and effort all my reviewers have spent listening to my ideas.

And again, I’m not on soft money. Even if my NIH proposal is not funded, I can re-apply next time, and this gives me an opportunity to directly address the reviewer comments (same for NSF) and present an improved proposal. In the meantime, I don’t have a Department chair or Dean threatening me that if I don’t pay my own salary, I’ll be fired. Lots of researchers live that life

New photos- These will appear shortly, they are all on my office computer.

Meanwhile, I’ve still got to teach my class, the search for a new Dean of the college is ramping up (we start interviewing candidates soon), there’s more proposals to write (there are *always* more proposals to write), I’ve got some collaborations starting up with the biomedical engineering department, lots of good things going on!

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Posted March 4, 2011 by resnicklab in Uncategorized

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