New Chief for NIH's Basic Research Institute

New NIGMS chief Chris Kaiser.

Patrick Gillooly/MIT

The National Institutes of Health's (NIH's) basic research institute has a new director. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) cell biologist Chris Kaiser will take the helm of the $2 billion National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) next spring.

Kaiser is now chair of MIT's department of biology, where he uses yeast to study how proteins fold and transport molecules within cells. He will replace NIGMS acting director Judith Greenberg, who has been filling in since Jeremy Berg left in July.

He will join NIH's fourth-largest institute at a time of ever-tighter budgets. Maintaining NIGMS's basic R01 research grants and strengthening the peer review process are his top priorities, he told ScienceInsider. He also plans to continue Berg's practice of blogging about how NIGMS makes funding decisions. "There is massive concern bordering on panic at the academic institutions about getting grants reviewed and so forth," Kaiser says. "It's really important even if times get tougher for stakeholders to understand how the money is being deployed."

Kaiser also expects to move forward with a new NIGMS strategic plan for its training programs. In implementing the plan, he intends to draw on lessons learned from expanding the proportion of minority graduate students in MIT's biology department from 5% to 18% over 6 years. One key step was to reach out to faculty mentors at historically minority colleges, who then suggested that their best students consider MIT for graduate school. NIGMS could look for ways to encourage such interactions, Kaiser says. "The real issue is that there's actually a huge talent pool of minority students out there but they're one step removed from applying to a place like MIT."