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Blue Ribbon Panel Review of NLM’s Intramural Research Program Released

A Blue Ribbon Panel established to review the intramural research program of the National Library of Medicine has issued its report (PDF). The Panel was chaired by Russ Altman, MD, PhD, from Stanford University, and included eight additional leading experts with a broad knowledge of biomedical informatics, computational biology, and data science.

The report highlights the importance of NLM’s intramural research program to the larger biomedical informatics and data science community, NLM’s information services (e.g., PubMed, database of Genotypes and Phenotypes), and high-profile NIH initiatives including the NIH Data Science Strategic Plan. It examines the full scope of NLM’s intramural research program, including elements housed in both the Lister Hill National Center for Biomedical Communications (LHNCBC) and the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI).

The Panel found that NLM’s intramural research program is populated with talented scientists who produce high-quality research results and perform at a very high level. The Panel considers it absolutely critical that NLM have a vibrant and aggressive intramural research program.  It calls for expanding NLM’s intramural research program to keep pace with the growing demand for novel biomedical informatics and data science approaches to biomedical research. 

In growing NLM’s research program, the Panel recommends that NLM engage in a research portfolio evaluation and strategic planning exercise to align NLM research priorities with the NLM Strategic Plan, the research priorities of the NIH, and needs of the broader biomedical research community. It also recommends that NLM adopt one or more audacious, high-risk, high-reward projects to galvanize research across the organization and inspire the larger scientific community, while continuing to support and encourage investigator-driven research.

In the report, the Panel also calls for NLM to improve the coordination of research conducted in NLM’s two research units, LHNCBC and NCBI, by managing its intramural research program as a seamlessly integrated program with a single scientific director.  This does not mean reorganizing existing program units but managing the program as a whole to better leverage synergies between projects and make the most of available resources and research opportunities.

Among its other recommendations, the Panel also calls for NLM to enhance research engagement with other Institutes and Centers at NIH, and establish more formalized processes for managing the interface between NLM’s intramural research and information service programs. It calls for NLM to “go big” in informatics and data science to capitalize on the opportunities before it.

“The Panel is to be commended for their efforts in identifying ways to advance NLM’s coordination, execution, and management of our intramural research programs,” said NLM Director Patricia Flatley Brennan, RN, PhD.  “NLM will work diligently, collaborating with other NIH Institutes and Centers and the research community to consider how best to turn these important recommendations and into actionable next steps.”

In addition to Panel Chair Russ Altman, other Blue Ribbon Panel members included Michael Boehnke, PhD, from University of Michigan; Mollie Cummins, PhD, RN, from University of Utah; Valerie de Crecy-Lagard, PhD, from University of Florida; Geoffrey Ginsburg, MD, PhD, from Duke University; Kevin Johnson, MD, MS, from Vanderbilt University; Peter Szolovits, PhD, from Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Jill Taylor, PhD, from New York State Department of Public Health; and Jeanette Wing, PhD, from Columbia University.

Since its founding in 1836, the National Library of Medicine https://www.nlm.nih.gov has played a pivotal role in translating biomedical research into practice and is a leader in information innovation. As one of the 27 Institutes and Centers at the National Institutes of Health, NLM advances research in biomedical informatics and data science and is the world's largest medical library. Millions of scientists, health professionals and the public use NLM services every day.

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