VU, VUMC work together to prepare grant proposals for NIH S10 programs

Vanderbilt University and Vanderbilt University Medical Center are currently accepting pre-proposals for National Institutes of Health programs that provide grants for the purchase of state-of-the-art shared instruments that enhance the research of NIH-funded investigators.

Over the past five years, VU and VUMC have collectively received more than $15 million to purchase cutting-edge instruments through NIH S10 programs that support path-breaking research and innovation for hundreds of Vanderbilt researchers. VU and VUMC have separate pre-proposal processes and submission systems, but collaborate and coordinate as One Vanderbilt in preparing these complex grant applications.

“Planning an S10 project involves a lot more than simply putting together a compelling argument that the instrument being requested is needed,” said Chuck Sanders, vice dean of the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine–Basic Sciences, associate dean for research and Aileen M. Lange and Annie Mary Lyle Professor and professor of biochemistry. “The pre-proposal process is designed to help the PI and their affiliated school work together to complete the detailed planning and the commitments required for a proposal to be competitive.”

VU and VUMC investigators are eligible for two instrumentation programs offered by the NIH:

Like all highly competitive funding opportunities, the grant preparation process demands much from the faculty PI, who is often driven by a desire to benefit large segments of the Vanderbilt research community who require access to the cutting-edge facilities or equipment proposed to advance their work. Some examples of past S10 projects include:

  • In 2022, principal investigator Matthew Tyska of the School of Medicine–Basic Sciences received an S10 grant for a focused ion beam scanning electron microscope, which permits three-dimensional reconstruction of entire cell volumes. Cell volume information is essential to help researchers understand and quantify the complex interactions of specialized structures within cells. The microscope is used for projects in cell, developmental, epithelial, intestinal and cancer biology, among others. To support this new tool, Basic Sciences committed matching funds and provided a carefully prepared space with the anti-vibration platform required for its installation.
  • In 2019, VUMC principal investigator Dr. James Goldenring received an S10 grant for an Azenta Life Sciences BioStore, a dual-temperature automated biobank used for storing, managing and protecting biospecimen repositories critical to advancing personalized medicine, cancer research and vaccine development, among other fields. The BioStore is the foundation of a new VUMC institutional shared resource, the comprehensive Vanderbilt Biospecimen Storage Facility, which opened in 2021. In addition to VUMC’s substantial institutional commitment for building the facility and supporting its operations, Basic Sciences also provided funding to help support the first five years of BioStore operations.
  • In 2021, Basic Sciences principal investigator Terunaga Nakagawa received S10 funds for a cryogenic electron microscope to enhance structural biology research. Traditional electron microscopes can damage biomolecules. Cryogenic electron microscopy uses frozen samples and image processing algorithms to overcome problems caused by traditional electron microscopes. Recent advances in technology and software have allowed for the determination of biomolecular structures at near-atomic resolution. Basic Sciences contributed significant funds to support this award, including building out the space to house the instrument.
  • In 2021, VUMC principal investigator Dr. John Gore received an S10 for the upgrade of a 7 Tesla magnetic resonance imaging and spectroscopy system managed within the Human Imaging Core, part of Vanderbilt University Institute of Imaging Science. The upgrade to this VUMC shared resource will ensure the continuing productivity and expanded use of the 7T system, which has been heavily used for more than 15 years for human subject and large animal research in neuroscience, metabolism and other fields. The 7T system can provide much higher image resolution, as fine as .5 millimeters, than traditional MRIs with lower magnetic fields.

While VU and VUMC are separate legal entities, they share a commitment to enabling pioneering research and innovation by aligning efforts to compete for NIH S10 awards to ensure maximum impact of technologically advanced research equipment. One feature of the strong collaboration between VU and VUMC is the coordinated pre-approval process. Both institutions require similar internal proposals and share information to help distinguish and strengthen potentially overlapping proposals to ensure the most competitive projects are supported for submission to NIH.

“VUMC and VU shared research resources, or cores, have always provided an excellent foundation for successful applications to NIH S10 funding opportunities,” said Amy Martinez, scientific program officer in the VUMC Office of Research. “We highly encourage applicants to partner with a core to ensure that all VUMC and Vanderbilt researchers have equitable and sustainable access to new equipment. While VUMC has a separate pre-approval process, we work closely with our Vanderbilt University colleagues every year to make sure each S10 proposal is unique and has the best chance for success. This collaborative spirit between institutions represents the ethos of the NIH S10 program and Vanderbilt’s shared resource network more broadly.”

Vanderbilt University faculty, including those within Basic Sciences, need to submit their pre-proposals to the Office of the Vice Provost for Research and Innovation via a REDCap survey. Basic Sciences provides a standard operating procedure with guidelines and requirements. Researchers should begin gathering required information and documents as soon as possible, as outlined in the standard operating procedure, before trying to complete the S10 VU REDCap survey. The standard operating procedure document is posted on the university’s S10 website.

Vanderbilt University researchers should start the pre-proposal process by sending a brief email stating their intent to apply to (Baisc Sciences investigators) or (Vanderbilt University investigators outside Basic Sciences). Emails should include:

  • Name of the principal investigator
  • Partnering core
  • Equipment description of less than five sentences

VUMC-employed faculty should use the separate VUMC S10 pre-proposal process. To begin, VUMC principal investigators should submit a brief expression of intent to Dr. Amy Martinez in the VUMC Office of Research prior to starting an internal application. Include the name of the principal investigator, the partnering core, and a brief equipment description (two–three sentences). More information about VUMC’s S10 program, including links to the VUMC pre-proposal form, helpful guidance for developing proposals and tips on managing post-award requirements can be found on the VUMC OOR website:

VU and VUMC also tag team to support PIs within their respective institutions once pre-proposals have been approved. Research Development and Support provides VU PIs with a table of institutional-level information on the performance of previous S10 awards, which is required by NIH for each application. For VUMC applicants, Martinez provides a table with this institutional-level information.

The deadline to submit pre-proposal S10 VU REDCap surveys is Friday, March 31, 2023. This will ensure enough time for institutional review and preparation of full proposals before the June 1 NIH deadline.