April 1, 2008
IC Directors
Kerry Brink, Assistant to the Deputy Director, NIH
IC Directors’ Meeting Highlights – February 28, 2008

Discussion Items

I. Peer Review - Brief Update, Dr. Larry Tabak, Director, NIDCR and Dr. Jeremy Berg, Director, NIGMS

Dr. Tabak explained that the Steering Committee Working Group on Peer Review is now transitioning into the Steering Committee Peer Review Implementation Group. Dr. Tabak thanked IC Directors for allowing their staff to be involved in the peer review effort. He requested IC Directors to nominate content experts to serve on the implementation group and expressed that continued IC involvement is crucial for a smooth implementation.

The implementation group will:

  • Analyze recommendations;
  • Model feasibility;
  • Identify the optimal path to realizing each recommendation;
  • Develop a timeline and cost estimate for implementation;
  • Identify the major obstacles to implementation;
  • Provide recommendations on how to proceed.

A cross-cutting committee will be established to address cross-cutting issues and develop a prioritized list of implementation recommendations for the NIH Director.

Dr. Zerhouni observed that the knowledge and experience of ICs and the Office of the Director (OD) will be absolutely essential for moving forward toward successful implementation.

II. Biomedical Research on the International Space Station, Dr. Stephen Katz, Director, NIAMS, and Mr. Mark Uhran, Assistant Associate Administrator, International Space Station, Office of Space Operations, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

Dr. Katz, who currently serves as the NIH liaison to NASA, expressed that the NIH and NASA have a strong history of collaborative activities and shared interests in the life and health sciences as they relate to space research.

Dr. Katz explained that there was a meeting held on the NIH campus on December 8, 2006. The purpose of the meeting was to share information about space-related health research interests and activities, and to identify potential opportunities for collaborations to facilitate space-related health research. In addition to NIH participation, other Federal participants included the National Institute of Standards and Technology, National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Dr. Katz noted that the International Space Station's (ISS) official designation as a National Laboratory offers the opportunity to apply the microgravity environment to health-related research in a variety of areas, including:

  • Bone and muscle loss;
  • Cardiovascular and endocrine systems;
  • Cell biology, including cellular and molecular repair processes;
  • Embryogenesis, central nervous system development;
  • Immune response;
  • Stem cell activity and tissue regeneration.

On September 12, 2007, Dr. Zerhouni and Dr. Griffin, the NASA Administrator, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for cooperation in space-related health research. The MOU established that the NIH will use reasonable efforts to:

  • Publicize to the intramural and extramural communities the availability of the ISS as a research environment;
  • Give careful consideration through the standard review process to well-developed, investigator-initiated extramural applications and potential intramural activities for space-related health research.

Dr. Katz then introduced Mr. Uhran, who explained that the ISS is expected to be fully operational in 2011. Resources include lab equipment, data processing capabilities, and crew time to conduct experiments. NASA is not expecting NIH to pay transportation costs, but they will require considerable lead-time to include experiments on the ISS. Next steps include developing a strategy for soliciting, considering and funding research, and intramural and extramural participation.

III. Science Education and Competitiveness, Dr. Bruce A. Fuchs, Director, NIH Office of Science Education (OSC), Office of Science Policy (OSC)

Dr. Fuchs noted that science education has been a concern in this country since the launch of Sputnik in 1957 -- as our biggest adversary beat us into space. Now, detailed in books such as Thomas Friedman's The World Is Flat and the National Academy of Science's Rising Above the Gathering Storm, U.S. leadership in science and technology is once again at risk.

Dr. Fuchs conveyed that the performance of U.S. students is behind most other rich nations in the world. A 2003 study by the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) compared the problem-solving abilities of 15-year-old students from 49 countries and the U.S. placed 29th. More than half of U.S. children scored in the Level 1 range, or below, and may have trouble finding working which will allow them to enter the middle class. Also disturbing is the fact that students from the U.S. were less than half as likely as students in the top performing nations to achieve the highest level of problem-solving ability (Level 3). This is troubling because these are the students who will become the nation's top scientists, engineers, business leaders, etc.

Dr. Fuchs explained that under the ‘No Child Left Behind' program, States design their own test and set the passing score, making it difficult to assess a real measure of success. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is now required of all States and the Department of Education has mapped State proficiency standards onto NAEP scales. For example, NAEP score equivalents in Forth Grade Reading reveal that many states have set their cut scores for proficiency substantially lower than the NAEP.

The OSE has made strategic investments in broader K-12 science education. One example is the NIH Curriculum Supplement Series, free interactive modules for elementary, middle and high schools that combine the latest science from NIH Institutes and Centers with state-of-the-art instructional approached. The supplements have been aligned to state and national science education standards so that teachers can fulfill their requirements. The curriculum supplements have gained broad interest.

The OSE's Science Education Policy Activities include:

  • Monitoring Department of Education's science education initiatives;
  • Staff support for Academic Competitiveness Council (ACC) principal member Dr. Zerhouni;
  • Staff support for NSTC Education Subcommittee co-chair Dr. Duane Alexander;
  • Supporting NAS studies into connection between workplace skills and science education.

IC Directors agreed that NIH can take a leadership role in scientific communities to communicate the threat level, garner support from the community and encourage policies to address the gap. IC Directors also commented on the importance of partnering with the community and engaging with teachers in science and technology education.

Kerry Brink
Cc: OD Small Staff

This page was last reviewed on May 8, 2008 .
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