Environmental Factor, June 2007, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
By Eddy Ball
During a recent science retreat, staff of the NIEHS Division of Extramural Research and Training formulated funding projects based on an analysis of the current extramural grants portfolio and how closely it conforms to the goals of the NIEHS Strategic Plan. With this formulation, the division established a reference point to help chart progress in addressing the Strategic Plan and identifying research needs in coming years.
Prior to the retreat DERT staff developed an analysis tool that provided a detailed annotation of all active NIEHS R01 and R21 grants. For each individual grant, staff identified which of the seven research goals of the Strategic Plan was being addressed, the disease focus, the tissue being studied, the model used (in vitro, animal, human), the environmental agent examined, the technology used and the professional degree of the principal investigator (PI).
At the morning session, DERT staff presented the analyses with regard to the Strategic Plan goals. Discussions focused on both the numbers of grants in each Strategic Plan goal and how the research was divided within each Plan goal (disease, tissue, environmental agent, technology focus and PI degree).
During the afternoon session, staff presented a more in depth analysis of selected grant portfolios: Reproductive/ Endocrine Disruptor, Respiratory, Brain/Nervous System, Cancer/DNA Repair, Metabolism, Immune System and Technology followed by an extensive discussion session for each topic. Questions addressed included the strengths and weaknesses of the portfolio, the progression from basic to clinical and opportunities/barriers for conducting translational research in that program. The three scientific research areas most represented in the portfolio were Reproductive/Endocrine (159 awards), Neuroscience (115) and Respiratory (59) of 562 grants examined. The three environmental agents most studied were Metals (91), Air Pollutants (69) and Dioxins/Furans (48).
The retreat ended with a discussion on how best to improve the portfolio analysis, how to create an information technology database that will be automatically updated and annotated to reflect the content of active awards and how to use this data most effectively to prioritize workshops and initiatives over the next few years.
Strategic Plan Goal (Grants/562)
Goal 1: Clinical Research (18)
Goal 2: Toxicant Mechanisms (368)
Goal 3: Integrated Research (18)
Goal 4: Global Health (33)
Goal 5: Biomarkers (34)
Disease Focus: (334)