Environmental Factor, March 2010, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
Collins' Priorities Frame Council Discussion
By Eddy Ball
The new NIH research agenda articulated by Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., played an important role in the winter meeting of the National Advisory Environmental Health Sciences Council. NIEHS/NTP Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., scientists, and administrators joined Council members Feb. 17 for a retreat organized around Collins' priorities (http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/summary/327/5961/36). Collins' five "areas of particular promise" also emerged in presentations and discussions during the Council's public sessions Feb. 18 and 19 (see text box).
During the first report of the public meeting Feb, 18, Birnbaum referred to Collins' research agenda and its bearing on the future direction of NIEHS and NTP research as part of her review of the Institute's activities and accomplishments since the last Council meeting in September.
Retreat tackles how to best position environmental health
Birnbaum left it to NIEHS Acting Deputy Director Steve Kleeberger, Ph.D., to explore in greater depth the implications of the challenge to Institutes and Centers to "identify what we are currently doing that is consistent" with Collins' research agenda. As Kleeberger explained, the process will be an opportunity for NIEHS to "think creatively about new directions for environmental health in the priority areas" as well as "examine and expand the priority areas themselves in ways that Francis and maybe others in Building 1 may not have considered."
Kleeberger opened his report by acknowledging the major contributions of NIEHS Division of Extramural Research and Training Interim Director Gwen Collman, Ph.D., and Director of the NIEHS Office of Policy, Planning, and Evaluation Sheila Newton, Ph.D., who was responsible for creating most of the presentation. As he went through the five priorities, Kleeberger offered a few examples of related NIEHS/NTP activities and opportunities for the Institute to help shape the research agenda discourse:
- Genomics and other high-throughput technologies -the NTP High Throughput Screening Initiative, Tox 21, and efforts to expand bioinformatics resources at NIEHS to support new technologies and systems biology approaches
- Translating basic science into new and better treatments -opportunities for establishing prevention as an NIH goal and increasing awareness of the importance of primary prevention through environmental interventions to complement traditional secondary prevention measures, such as screening
- Using science to enable health care reform - taking comparative effectiveness research beyond the level of treatment to evaluate prevention strategies, expanding health disparities research, and better understanding gene-environment interactions for prevention
- Focusing on global health - merging global health with environmental health and primary prevention at home and abroad, expanding partnerships, and balancing ongoing and emerging issues into a unified initiative
- Reinvigorating the biomedical research enterprise - advocating for early career opportunities focused toward environmental health science research, recruiting and retaining minority scientists, promoting innovative high-risk research, and fostering cross-disciplinary collaborations
Kleeberger closed his report by emphasizing that the priorities are related concepts. "High throughput approaches are going to be required to meet the challenges of translational research and the problems raised under the rubric of health care reform," he said. "Translational research will be a component of a robust global health research program. And all these areas will contribute to reinvigorating the biomedical research enterprise."
Along with its animated discussion of future directions and program priorities, Council was treated to science talks by three epidemiologists from the intramural and extramural programs (see related story(http://www.niehs.nih.gov/news/newsletter/2010/march/science-epidemiology.cfm)). Members also dealt with the business of considering grant awards and heard reports on program areas and activities (agenda and reports available online(http://www.niehs.nih.gov/about/boards/naehsc/agenda/index.cfm)):
- Legislative activities - Director of the NIEHS Office of Policy, Planning, and Evaluation Sheila Newton, Ph.D., discussed her office's legislative activities, such as preparing legislative reports, gathering information and clearances for congressional testimony, and tracking legislation that bears on the Institute's activities.
- NTP Board of Scientific Counselors (BSC) - BSC Chair Ken Portier, Ph.D., outlined the board's make-up, range of involvement in NTP study design and draft reports, and the importance of NTP research for regulatory agencies.
- Division of Extramural Research and Training (DERT) - DERT Interim Director Gwen Collman, Ph.D., updated members on "the fruits of the labors of Council," including staff activities, grant approval success rates, funding opportunities in Collins' thematic areas, and the possibility of additional funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
- Program evaluation of Environmental Health Science (EHS) Core Centers (P30) - Health Science Administrator Les Reinlib, Ph.D., reviewed proposed strategies for evaluating the effects of three years of effort to streamline the EHS Core Centers (http://www.niehs.nih.gov/research/supported/centers/core/index.cfm) program and reduce funding, as he and Program Analysis Chief Christie Drew, Ph.D., received comments and suggestions from members.