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Your Environment. Your Health.

Visionary Ideas: Collaborations and Partnerships

New Strategic Plan

Visionary Ideas

NIEHS established a special website for visitors to submit, vote on, or comment on Visionary Ideas, as well as discuss strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats for NIEHS. Visionary Ideas are as submitted, unedited for grammar or spelling.

Idea 1: Better broad based public information on radon exposure

Out pacing the myths surrounding Radon exposure with improved communication and dissemination of risk factors between doctors and patients, hospitals, staff and top level health agencies, and those agencies including NIEHS and local and state governments.

There also needs to be improvement in education for realtors and those who participate in home buying and selling so that all understand the risk of Radon and the importance and benefits of  improving indoor air quality.

It was done for the number one cause of Lung Cancer; now its time to zero in on number two.

Idea 2: Bring a public health mindset to MBA programs

Fund innovative business schools to develop collaborative courses between SPH and MBA programs so that business school graduates are better informed about the public health outcomes of the business decisions they make.

Idea 3: Clean/improved cookstoves: comprehensive collaborative research

Over half of the world’s population uses solid-fuel (e.g., agricultural residues, coal, dung, and wood) to cook, heat, and light their homes.  Open fires or poorly ventilated stoves expose over one billion people, primarily women and children, to airborne particulates 20-100 times greater than WHO air quality guidelines.  NIEHS has funded some of the extant research that links indoor biomass smoke to acute respiratory infections in children and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in women; household coal use is associated with lung cancer among women.  

Fewer reports on men link indoor air particulates to COPD and tuberculosis among men.  Other issues closely related include climate change through deforestation and smoke; physical/sexual violence or murder of women who search long distances for biofuel, and the resultant disintegration of families who have lost their respective mothers.  NIEHS and its sister ICs have joined with other US Government agencies, governments worldwide, private industry, non-profits/NGOs, and the UN Foundation through the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves to ensure that 100 million homes adopt clean and efficient stoves and fuels by 2020.  Just as NIH agencies responded to Hurricane Katrina and the 2010 Gulf oil spill with unique, joint funding opportunities, I recommend that NIEHS continue its partnerships with NIH ICs, other USG agencies, and, perhaps, with other organizations to provide funding opportunities for both formative natural experiment research that links epidemiology with social and behavioral research to determine the relationships among cookstove adoption, individual and local beliefs, economic and sociocultural conditions, air quality, and physical health outcomes.

This specific issue appears to be outside of NIEHS' remit.  It is an important problem globally; but not within the US (considering, overall, the cooking methods used in the US).

Idea 4: Collaborate with gov. agencies that address env. health

NIEHS should collaborate more with the Centers for Disease Control, EPA, ATSDR and other government agencies addressing environmental health. Increase NIEHS grant support to include workforce development not just research on environmental health. There is a national shortage of trained env. health professionals. We need NIEHS to support efforts to increase the environmental health workforce by providing grants to agencies and organizations that work on environmental health workforce issues.

Idea 5: Community-university environmental health partnership

NIEHS has a unique history in funding community-university environmental health partnership research.  NIEHS should expand its PEPH program to provide additional resources to these efforts.  The use of community-university partnerships and the community-based participatory research framework has been shown to be effective at studying and addressing current environmental health problems and may have utility in helping to address emerging environmental health threats including microbial, nano, PBDEs, and others.  This type of funding is particularly important for vulnerable populations particularly health disparity populations and populations that are differentially burdened by environmental hazards and exposed to chemical, microbial, physical, and built agents.

Idea 6: Comparative toxicology

Pets and wildlife can inform human health risks for environmental contaminants. I learned this while studying wild bottlenose dolphin populations in Florida and found soot in their lung, lymph nodes and liver. My interest led to a Ph.D. and learning about respiratory toxicology. Similarly, pets live their lives with us in the same environment and are exposed to many of the same contaminants. A directed effort to enlist wildlife biologists, veterinarians and our personal physicians in getting samples and keeping health records which could contribute to a knowledge base to learn what are the existing levels of contaminants in us, our pets and wildlife could be connected to diagnoses and inform us about the burden of disease. This knowledge would help focus efforts to remove those pollutants of greatest concern.


I voted once for my idea, if that's okay.

Idea 7: Getting gov depts of health & env at multiple levels talking

Decision-making, policy implementation and action on the ground in the area of environmental health needs officials in both the Government Departments of Health as well as Environment to literally speak with one another more often in a meaningful way, and not only at the highest level, but from Directors to practitioners working among communities. Finding novels ways to make this happen will mobilize environmental health services as well as advance the research and science, particularly in developing countries.

Idea 8: Mandatory population research investigator/community Interaction

In working with both community groups and bench scientists, it is my experience that investigators still are reluctant to interact or engage in a dialogue with the communities affected by their research results. Or will only do so many years after the data have been analyzed.  I would strongly recommend that an immediate and sustained dialogue with the impacted community become a mandatory component of funding for population-based research.


This is beginning to happen in some areas of research, but, in my experience, only when the researchers are committed to the idea of community engagement and/or the communities are experienced and empowered enough to strike an equitable agreement. A consideration of the impact of research on community should be as an integral part of the IRB and informed consent process for research in general and population based research in particular.

Idea 9: Mixed Exposure Syndrome

Clinical research is being conducted in Shasta County, California concerning Mixed Exposure Syndrome.  There is a group of chronically ill people who have been tested for heavy metal toxicity. Over 90% of those tested have elevated levels of lead as well as other toxic metals.  In an effort to better understand the potential for heavy metals to cause disease, local citizens have come together to form PETRA (People's Environmental Resource Alliance).  PETRA's mission is to be an educational resource bridging the gaps between environmental toxicologists, public health officials, physicians, and the people they serve.  Our organization seeks to understand the relationship between the environment and human health. By building alliances, we intend to foster a local economy that supports healthy living.

Shasta County has one hundred and five mines, with Iron Mountain being the largest and most toxic superfund sights in this Northern Hemisphere.

Comment 1
Great work, Jeannine.
Tell the people of PETRA to keep up the good work.

Comment 2
Go to
See PETRA on Facebook at PERTA Nonprofit

Idea 10: Partner with computer wizards in the gaming community

Gaming communities are looking to develop creative solutions to big problems like global warming. They could be the perfect conduit to expanding the younger generation's understanding of reproductive environmental health.

Idea 11: Public-private partnerships to develop microchip-based sensors

NIEHS should promote public-private partnerships that develop microchip based personal monitoring tools for environmental health scientists. Specific emphasis should be placed on developing nanoelectronic (semiconductor) platforms and “cloud-based” technologies for the detection of environmental toxicants, for use as integrated personal exposure or biological response devices and for use as population based tools (think of automated “twitter” for the detection of specific toxicants or biological responses).

To effectively generate microchip-based sensors that are connected to the Internet, we have to leverage existing know-how residing in the established semiconductor sector (i.e., Intel, IBM, SEMATECH) and integrate it with sensors for toxicants and biological response. Resulting nanoelectronic based sensors would be low cost devices that could be easily incorporated into I-phones / PDA’s (as they are run by microchips built from a similar platform) to provide wireless connectivity that allows for real time exposure and response measures across the US population and geographies. Requests for applications could leverage corporate funds, would promote product development and resulting technologies could provide important tools for personalized medicine. Deployment of these low cost microchip-based sensors will support prevention strategies for environmentally related diseases and promote public health.

Idea 12: Research consortium on women’s environmental repro health

Can NIEHS promote the formal establishment of a US research consortium to focus on the investigation of environmental threats to women's reproductive health, and whether there is any corollary in the female to the testicular dysgenesis syndrome? There is enough evidence to suggest that this question, e.g., should be pursued, and there are talented groups of investigators with the right experience across the country who, coordinated and supported, could pursue an ovarian dysgenesis syndrome hypothesis in an appropriately comprehensive and interdisciplinary way.

Idea 13: Stronger international collaboration

I think NIEHS should engage in more international projects and collaborate further with international institutions for example from the EU and Japan. This can, at least, reduce the national funding need for great projects.

I emphatically agree that the US - across federal agencies - should try and go abroad more to consult, study and learn during public health events of significance.  These need not be as dramatic as the nuclear leak in Japan, as there are a great many quasi-conventional incidents that occur each year. We need a mix of scientists and experienced responders for this purpose. For some particularly capable responders it would be possible to create an exciting career path involving greater scope and responsibility. Moreover, our whole approach to this subject needs to be put on as solid an academic footing as foreign relations (possibly a poor choice) or warfare. The subject deserves to be developed as an important field of public health education.

Idea 14: Toxicology collaborative research networks and human health

The mission of the NIEHS is to reduce the burden of human illness and disability by understanding how our environment influences the development and progression of human disease. There are over 80,000 chemicals used in commerce, including the production of food, medicines, toys, and everyday household items. It is widely suspected that many of these chemicals play a role in the etiology of developmental defects and chronic disease. Remarkably, however, it is unknown how most of these chemicals interact with and affect biological systems.

The critical challenge for the 21st century, therefore, is 1) to understand how chronic and episodic
exposure to low levels of single and complex mixtures of environmental chemicals impact human health, 2) to understand how an individual’s genetic makeup affects the risk of developing toxicant-induced diseases, and 3) to develop effective regulatory policies based on sound scientific data. The magnitude of this challenge is immense and can realistically only be addressed using multidisciplinary collaborative approaches that coordinate computational and comparative experimental strategies.

We suggest that the NIEHS create a Toxicology Collaborative Research Network (TCRN) that will enable groups of investigators to coordinate and build on their collective research activities. Our vision of the TCRN consists of multiple networked and highly interactive centers that comprise groups of investigators from multiple disciplines using innovative technologies and diverse model organisms to address focused research activities in the area of human health and the environment. Together with recent initiatives supported by the NIEHS, such as the Exposure Biology Program and Tox21, the TCRN would focus on understanding the impact of the environment on human health, and would accelerate the transition of toxicology from a predominantly observational science to a predominantly predictive science.

The success of the TCRN will hinge on investments in mission-critical areas. We suggest that centers within the TCRN focus on one or more of the following research areas:


  • Development of existing and new databases, and bioinformatics, biostatistics, and computational biology tools and technologies that effectively centralize, analyze and model existing and emerging toxicology data in order to generate testable hypotheses.
  • Focused utilization of genetic model organisms such as Caenorhabditis elegans, Daphnia and zebrafish to rapidly and inexpensively test computationally generated hypotheses, biological outcomes of exposure to toxicants prioritized based on existing human health and environmental data, and complex gene/environment interactions.
  • Development of cross-species comparative studies in lower organisms to aid in the identification of evolutionarily conserved mechanisms of action and molecular pathways that are targeted by environmental toxin exposures.
  • Development of pipelines for translating findings from non-mammalian models into studies in mice and other mammals and ultimately into humans.
  • Development of pipelines to facilitate translating biological discoveries into human health treatments and regulatory policies.


We believe that a Toxicology Collaborative Research Network will ensure the success of the NIEHS mission to reduce the environmental causes of human illness and disease by accelerating the development of predictive biomarkers of exposure; directly and positively impacting diagnosis and treatment of environmentally influenced disorders; and providing a rational, scientifically-based justification for enacting regulatory policies aimed at lessening the health effects of environmental exposure.

Idea 15: Use interdisciplinary teams

NIEHS strategies might invest in research teams with both hard and social science expertise. Nurses have a long history of interest in environmental health and a connection with the communities we serve.

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