Sidney McNairy

Dr. Sidney McNairy is an award winning academician and senior-level federal grants administrator. He has spent his entire federal career at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the nation’s premier biomedical research organization and principal agency within the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) that evolves new knowledge that focuses on the causes, effects, prevention, and treatment of human disease. During his career at NIH, Dr. McNairy has been the driving force behind the success of a number of innovative programs that strengthened the biomedical research infrastructure at both emerging and research-intensive institutions throughout the nation. He has also been a leader in developing programs that address health-disparities and health-related science education for K-12 students and the general public.

From 1995 to 2012 Dr. McNairy served as the Associate Director for Research Infrastructure in the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR), NIH and the Director of the Division of Research Infrastructure (DRI). The principal objective of DRI was to provide oversight for programs that provided much of the infrastructure needed by the nation’s research community to conduct biomedical and behavioral research.

As the Director of DRI, he ensured that the congressional directives to develop and implement programs to increase the research competitiveness of investigators in underserved states and developing institutions were achieved. Dr. McNairy was the driving force behind the success of the Research Centers in Minority Institutions (RCMI) Program, the Institutional Development Award (IDeA) Program, the Animal Facilities Improvement Program (AFIP), the Research Facilities Improvement Program (RFIP), the Science Education Partnership Awards (SEPA), the Minority Summer High school Summer Research Program, and the Research Infrastructure in Minority Institutions (RIMI) Program. These programs provided funding to enhance, build, expand, remodel or renovate research facilities; facilitate research advances across a broad range of diseases that impact the nation’s health; and develop faculty, post-docs, graduate, undergraduate and high school students for careers in the biomedical sciences.

Dr. McNairy considers strong mentoring to be a central and integral component of the systems that lead new researchers to choose careers in biomedical research. Consistent with his belief in the value of mentoring, in 2006 he led the U.S. delegation of students to the 56th Meeting of Noble Prize Winners in Lindau, Germany. Among the one thousand students from all over the world who attended this conference were 12 students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities that participated in the weeklong meeting that included lectures by 23 Nobel Laureates.

From 2000 to 2010 $0.556 and $2.379 billion respectively was appropriated for the RCMI and IDeA Programs. With these resources, these communities successfully competed for $ 2.379 and $ 14.8 billion from the NIH to support biomedical research. These funds enabled the scientists in twenty-three states and Puerto Rico associated with the IDeA Program and scientists at 18 minority institutions to contribute to research advances in basic, clinical, and translational biomedical and behavioral research, thereby facilitating the movement of research from the bench to the bedside into the community. This was a crucial step for the 34 medical schools associated with these two programs. Moreover, in FY 2009, the operating budget for DRI was $400 million. This included ca. $100 million from the American Recovery and Re-investment Act (ARRA). These resources provided support for the conduct of basic, clinical, and translational research as well as the development of the infrastructure needed to support this research. Support for the information technology (IT) infrastructure was a vital part of this infrastructure, ensuring that both IDeA states and minority institutions funded via the RCMI Program could develop a more robust IT infrastructure for collaborative research.

As the complexity of DRI increased (due in large measure to the growth of the budget), many of these programs were reassigned to other parts of NCRR and NIH. For example, from 1995 to 2005, $660 million was appropriated for the RFIP Program in DRI. During this time, approximately 356 research facilities were built throughout the nation. The grantee community leveraged these funds to produce over $2.1 billion of biomedical research space. When the construction budget was increased to $ 1 billion through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 1999, the Construction Program became an independent office. However, the Construction Systems Management Approach developed in DRI was key to the successful management of the ARRA projects and funding.

Dr. McNairy considers among his greatest career accomplishments notable contributions to fundamental research in biochemistry as well as to planning and administration of national research initiatives. His research has focused on the isolation, chemical characterization, and molecular mechanism of actions of triterpenoid glycosides. In addition, as a visiting scientist at Eli Lily, he worked with the pioneering research team that isolated proinsulin, sequenced the insulin connecting polypeptide, and developed a radio-immunological assay for proinsulin.

In the past decade, serving as Director of the Division of Research Infrastructure at NCRR, Dr. McNairy developed and implemented an entirely new concept, which was that research opportunities for students and faculty in states that traditionally have had limited participation in the nation’s biomedical research agenda deserve expansion and significant support. Moreover, he also launched the RCMI Translational Research Network, a multi-site network that enabled 18 minority institutions to collaborate with each other and with the greater biomedical research community through cyber workspaces.

Dr. McNairy received his B.S. in chemistry/mathematics from LeMoyne-Owen College and both the M.S and Ph.D. degrees from Purdue University in biochemistry with minors in human physiology and organic chemistry. He has done further study at Columbia University. Prior to coming to NIH, he was a Professor of Chemistry at Southern University in Baton Rouge, LA, and the Director of the Health Research Center. During his tenure at Southern University, he was a visiting scientist at Charles Pfizer, Eli Lily, General Electric, Standard Oil of California, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dr. McNairy has received numerous awards and honors, including 8 honorary doctorate degrees, designation as an “Old Master” by his alma mater Purdue University, membership in the Golden Parade of alumni and election to the Board of Trustees of LeMoyne –Owen College. He is an honorary member of the Tuskegee Veterinary Medical Alumni Association, has been designated an “Arkansas Traveler” by the governor of Arkansas, and is a member of the Nebraska Admiral’s club.

He has received two University “Presidential Awards”, the NIH’s Director’s Award, is a member of federal government’s Senior Executive Service, and was selected by Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government to participate in the Program for Senior Managers in Government. In 2002 he was the first recipient of the Frederick C. Greenwood Award, in recognition of his excellence as a research Administrator and meritorious service to the RCMI grantee community. At the Second-biennial national IDeA Biomedical Research Symposium in June of 2008, a Lecture series was named in his honor.

From January 2012 to January 2013, Dr. McNairy was the Branch Chief for the Capacity Building Branch in NIGMS/NIH. He was responsible for providing management oversight for the IDeA, NARCH (Native American Research Centers for Health) SC1, 2, and 3 programs. On January 3, 2013 Dr. McNairy elected to end his 37.5 year federal career as a member of the Senior Executive Service, the highest civilian rank in the federal government.

In May 2013, he was awarded a Doctorate of Humane Letters by Clarke-Atlanta University (CAU) for providing leadership in developing the research infrastructure at CAU as well as 17 Medicine; the Ponce School of Medicine; the Universidad Central Esquela de Medicine; Charles Crew University; and the University of Hawaii.

He has been invited and will address the medical students at the University of Hawaii at the May 2014 commencement. He accepted speaking commitments since his retirement at the state-wide biomedical research conferences in Louisiana, Idaho, Maine, Kansas City and Hawaii.

In April of 2014 he will gave the plenary address at the 50th Anniversary Meeting of the Student National Medical Association meeting in Washington D.C.