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Published April 26, 2019
A University of Wyoming molecular genetics researcher will help the National Institutes of Health (NIH) with reading and assessing grant submissions for the next few years.
David Fay, a UW professor in the Department of Molecular Biology, has been accepted as a member of the Development – 1 Study Section, Center for Scientific Review at NIH. Study sections are made up of practicing scientists around the country.
Fay will serve for a term beginning July 1 and ending June 30, 2023. Members are selected on the basis of their demonstrated competence and achievement in their scientific disciplines, as evidenced by the quality of research accomplishments, publications in scientific journals and other significant scientific activities, achievements and honors.
“Their job is to provide a rigorous and fair review process so that well-informed funding decisions can be made. Usually only a small percentage, 10 to 20 percent, of the grants are funded from each round, so it’s very competitive,” Fay says. “When a scientist from UW submits a standard NIH grant, they are competing with a strong pool of scientists from around the country. Study sections typically review grants three times a year, and panels are made up of 12-16 scientists, plus several NIH administrators.”
Fay says about half of the scientists on the study section are “permanent members,” meaning they serve four-year terms and come to every meeting. The other half are ad-hoc members.
“I’ve done a lot of ad-hoc meetings for various sections over the years,” he says. “If you’re funded by NIH, you can expect to do some ad-hoc reviewing for them at some point.”
The NIH funds the large majority of health-related research carried out by academic labs around the country. The agency’s total budget is about $35 billion for 2019. Faculty members apply for grants through the NIH. Each grant goes to a specific “study section” that has expertise in that area of research.
Last year, Thomas Beres -- an NIH administrator for whom Fay served as an ad-hoc member in the past -- asked Fay if he would be willing to serve as a permanent member of his study section, DEV1, which focuses on the molecular and cellular mechanisms that underlie animal development. Panel members are nominated and approved following consultations with other current and former members of the study section, as well as scientists around the country.
While grateful for the opportunity, Fay says this appointment “means a lot of extra work.” For starters, Fay will be required to attend three meetings each of the next four years. To prepare for these meetings, Fay says a member is typically assigned 10-12 grants to read and then write detailed critiques on each. At the meeting, Fay will discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the grants with other panel members.
“You get to hear about a lot of interesting, cutting-edge science,” Fay explains. “Grants ultimately receive scores and are ranked. And this serves as the major basis for whether a grant is funded or not, a decision that is made by NIH administrators and not the panel directly.”
Fay, who started at UW in 2001, is no stranger to research grants, as his UW lab is very active in molecular genetics research that is funded by the NIH. To maintain his research program, Fay has to publish papers and submit proposals on a regular basis. Additionally, Fay does a lot of work as associate director of the Wyoming IDeA Networks of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE). INBRE is a small, but important, branch of the NIH that awards program project grants to 23 states, mostly rural ones, including Wyoming, with low overall levels of NIH support. Wyoming INBRE promotes biomedical training and research at UW and also has a large impact on the state’s community colleges.
Fay received his Ph.D. in molecular biophysics and biochemistry from Yale University, and his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Tufts University.
“The scientific research enterprise has, at its foundation, peer review. Professor Fay has a richly deserved reputation for research excellence that extends nationally and globally,” says Ed Synakowski, UW’s vice president for the Office of Research and Economic Development. “For NIH, peer review of the highest quality is essential, given the extraordinarily intense competition for research dollars and the stakes in ensuring that research is conducted according to the highest standards.
“Professor Fay’s selection as a member of the Development - 1 Study Section of the Center for Scientific Review says that he is held in the highest regard by NIH and his research peers from across the country,” Synakowski continues. “It is a reflection of the research excellence of his colleagues here at UW and is something of which all of UW can be rightly proud. I extend my wholehearted congratulations to him and my gratitude for his willingness to serve.”
“I want to take this opportunity to emphasize the importance of Dr. Fay’s participation in assuring the quality of the NIH peer review process; express the NIH appreciation of your institution's support of its activities; and indicate the hope and expectation that institutional officials will provide continued support,” says Noni Byrnes, director of the Center for Scientific Review.