From the outside, the NIH is a huge sprawling pit of bureaucracy that somehow manages to fund science across the entire spectrum of biomedical research. From the inside, I’ve discovered that there are branches and offices, of which most scientists are totally unaware. In addition to the 27 institutes and centers that make up the NIH, there is a special office dedicated to cutting edge science, risky ventures, and cross-disciplinary collaborations. The NIH Common Fund coordinates research that involves at least two institutes or centers and tries to help remove the roadblocks that keep basic scientific discoveries from moving to the clinic.
I had no idea this office existed and some of the projects they are funding are pretty exciting. There is a single cell analysis project focused on developing the necessary technology and creating workshops to train scientists to use these new techniques. There is also a project to systematically characterize genetic knock-out mice in order to have complete characterization of knock-outs of all genes in the mouse. The mice have all been generated and now the Common Fund is paying for characterization of all the mutant mice. This would be a huge resource for both labs using mice as a model system and those looking to follow their gene of interest into a vertebrate model organism.
The Common Fund puts out requests for applications for all sorts of interdisciplinary projects and the forefront of scientific research is visible in their current efforts.