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Your Environment. Your Health.

December 2020 Superfund Research Program Science Digest

Superfund Research Program Science Digest
Balancing Scientific Excellence with Research Relevance

Director's Letter

William Suk

I want to first thank you all for the work you are doing, and I hope everyone and their families are doing well as we head into this unique holiday season. The battle against COVID-19 continues, but we are making new discoveries and learning what will help us end this pandemic.

As the world around us continues to change, so does the Superfund Research Program (SRP).

In 2020, the SRP engaged stakeholders from academia, environmental health agencies, and not-for-profit organizations to review and refine the SRP Strategic Plan. The objectives and goals of the 2020 rendition represent key themes from previous SRP strategic plans that are still relevant today, as well as updates to address emerging needs and program goals.

The 2020 Strategic Plan re-emphasizes the importance of basic research and how it can lead to application and impact. The plan also expands on goals to enhance coordination and collaboration both among grantees and with a variety of stakeholders to leverage resources. The promotion and expansion of trainee diversity have renewed focus.

As part of the 2020 update, we adapt a systems approach, which emphasizes the need for projects to work together to address specific questions as part of a larger system. This approach offers a framework to understand how center teams can integrate the diverse fields of biomedical research, environmental science and engineering, research translation, community engagement, and data science to answer questions that could not be answered by a single discipline. We found that systems thinking offers a useful multidirectional framework to link diverse perspectives and continually gain new insight.

The 2020 plan prioritizes critical research areas. Some of these include how to better understand the relationship between the environment and health when there are long latencies between exposure and disease, disentangling the complex interrelationships that contribute to the total accumulated stress on the body, incorporating emerging precision approaches for prevention that take into account individual variability in genes, environment, and lifestyle, and how exposure burdens combine with other social determinants of health to create health disparities.

With program strategy shifts in mind, our feature this month showcases how SRP researchers are addressing the critical research area of social determinants of health and health disparities. Social determinants of health such as age, sex, gender, education, race, and income create health disparities that researchers have been investigating with rigor. We see teams of diverse professionals developing public health tools that translate research to stakeholders, exploring the impact of co-exposure to hazardous substances and social stressors on health, and conducting community-based participatory approaches to empower vulnerable populations.

We have found that a one-size-fits-all approach will not maximize our productivity or accelerate scientific advancement. Our intent for the updated strategic plan is to ensure that SRP continues to support a cutting-edge program that is responsive to its mandates and relevant to its stakeholders.

Kind regards,

William A. Suk, Ph.D., M.P.H.
Director
Superfund Research Program