The National Institutes of Health is challenging science innovators to compete for prizes totaling up to $500,000, by developing new ways to track the health status of a single cell in complex tissue over time. The NIH Follow that Cell Challenge seeks tools that would, for example, monitor a cell in the process of becoming cancerous, detect changes due to a disease-causing virus, or track how a cell responds to treatment.
"Advances in cellular analysis promise earlier diagnosis and improved therapies for diseases, from cancer to Alzheimer's," said James Anderson, M.D., Ph.D., director of NIH's Division of Program Coordination, Planning, and Strategic Initiatives (DPCPSI). "These prizes will also help to stimulate new businesses and economic growth in our biomedical communities."
The challenge aims to generate creative ideas and methods for following and predicting a single cell's behavior and function over time in a complex multicellular environment - preferably using multiple integrated measures to detect its changing state.
The challenge is issued under America COMPETES, by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB), on behalf of the NIH Common Fund's Single Cell Analysis Program (SCAP), part of DPCPSI.
"All cells of a particular type are not identical," explained Anderson. "An individual cell may become very different, affecting the health and function of its entire population. Today's tools provide mostly snapshots of single cells, not the movie of changes over time that we need to understand cell states and transitions from one state to another."
Although several grant-supported studies exploring these issues are underway, SCAP sought to stimulate efforts beyond academia among a more diverse community than researchers who typically apply for NIH grants. These include innovators and problem solvers from U.S. industry research and development and even from fields outside of biomedicine.
Phase 1 of the challenge, which begins today, seeks theoretical, written solutions, due by Dec. 15, 2014. Submissions will be screened by panels of outside and NIH staff experts prior to review by a three-judge panel consisting of the NIMH, NIBIB, and DPCPSI directors, who will award up to six prizes totaling $100,000, to be announced March 16, 2015.
Phase 1 winners and runners-up will be eligible to participate in Phase 2, a "Reduction to Practice" to provide proof of concept data related to their Phase 1 entries. These submissions will be due March 30, 2017. One or two winning solutions will receive prizes totaling $400,000, to be announced July 31, 2017.
Details of the criteria by which entries will be evaluated were published in the Federal Register Aug. 11, 2014. A registration link for the Challenge is available on the SCAP Challenge page and on the Follow That Cell website maintained by InnoCentive, Inc., which is hosting and marketing the challenge under contract with NIH. While only citizens or permanent residents of the United States are eligible to compete individually as solvers, non-citizens may participate as a member of a team.
"We believe that combining the immense brainpower of scientists, engineers and innovators will propel the development of the next generation of single cell analysis, galvanizing this field," said Anderson.
Follow That Cell website
Federal Register Notice
SCAP Challenge page
About the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH):
The mission of the NIMH is to transform the understanding and treatment of mental illnesses through basic and clinical research, paving the way for prevention, recovery and cure. For more information, visit the NIMH website.
About the Common Fund:
The NIH Common Fund encourages collaboration and supports a series of exceptionally high-impact, trans-NIH programs. Common Fund programs are designed to pursue major opportunities and gaps in biomedical research that no single NIH Institute could tackle alone, but that the agency as a whole can address to make the biggest impact possible on the progress of medical research. Additional information about the NIH Common Fund can be found at http://commonfund.
About the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering:NIBIB's mission is to improve health by leading the development and accelerating the application of biomedical technologies. The Institute is committed to integrating the physical and engineering sciences with the life sciences to advance basic research and medical care. NIBIB supports emerging technology research and development within its internal laboratories and through grants, collaborations, and training. More information is available at the NIBIB website: http://www.
About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH,the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit http://www.