Celebrating Birnbaum’s Commitment to Communities
Anyone who has interacted with NIEHS and National Toxicology Program Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., recognizes her commitment to community engagement. During her 10 years leading the institute, she was often heard at scientific and community events highlighting that “You can’t do environmental health research unless our communities and our citizens are engaged from the very beginning.” In fact, at her first Environmental Health Sciences Core Center meeting, she stated to all participants that from that day forward, community engagement cores would no longer be optional; they would be required. As Birnbaum steps down as NIEHS director on October 3, the PEPH Network celebrates her leadership and commitment to communities.
On both a personal and professional level, NIEHS grantees value how Birnbaum’s vision and leadership shaped the way environmental health research is done.
“Linda has brought to the fore of NIEHS’s mission the focus on environmental justice, community-based participatory research, tribal ecological knowledge, and environmental health literacy and has given her staff much leeway to further those approaches. In my own quest to integrate social sciences with environmental health science, Linda’s support has been important to our field and very gratifying personally,” reflected Phil Brown, Ph.D., an NIEHS grantee and former National Advisory Environmental Health Sciences Council member.
Birnbaum did not just promote community engagement to her staff and grantees – she practiced it. Since becoming NIEHS director, she attended 25 community forums, where she spoke with community members about environmental health issues, listened to their concerns, and answered their questions.
“These community forums are part of Dr. Birnbaum’s legacy,” said John Schelp of the NIEHS Office of Science Education and Diversity.
The community forums allowed Birnbaum to learn about environmental health issues across the country and observe the similarities and differences from place to place based on a community’s unique environmental, social, and cultural experience. Her interactions with tribal communities informed her focus on the value of culture in environmental health research.
“Dr. Birnbaum has always inspired me with her caring and heartfelt approach when visiting tribal communities. She listens carefully and takes part in local events and gatherings with interest and respect. She has been my role model for cultural appropriateness,” said NIEHS Program Officer Symma Finn, Ph.D.
Birnbaum’s on-the-ground presence and willingness to listen to and learn from different perspectives was felt by the communities she visited.
“Encouraging and embracing diversity of thought is Linda’s style, one person at a time. We often remarked: how can one woman be everywhere? She was! Linda walked the walk, listening to all of our concerns, taking her famous notes, and bringing great ideas back to the strong team at NIEHS,” said Karen Miller, founder of the Huntington Breast Cancer Action Coalition, Inc. and a Friends of NIEHS member.
Birnbaum’s actions and words made community engagement an accepted and expected part of environmental health research.
“During Dr. Birnbaum’s tenure, the approach to working with and involving community in environmental health research has dramatically transformed the field. While once thought of as something nice to add to a research project, community engagement has become a critical component of all aspects of environmental health research and practice. She was constantly communicating the virtues and impacts of these approaches to as many groups as she could. We are grateful for her vision and her support of our Partnerships for Environmental Public Health program over the years,” said Gwen Collman, Ph.D., director of the NIEHS Division of Extramural Research and Training.
Birnbaum led by example and inspired many who will carry on her commitment to communities. From all of us in the PEPH Network, we thank you, Dr. Birnbaum, for all you have done to promote and advance community engagement in environmental health science and champion research that leads to public health action.
New PFAS Webpages from NIEHS
A new webpage on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) from the Division of Extramural Research and Training highlights more than 40 NIEHS-funded research groups across the country working to better understand the health effects of PFAS. The webpage lists more than 100 published papers from NIEHS-funded grants as well as a list of PFAS resources from other federal partners.
From Allergies to Zika — ABCs of Environmental Health
NIEHS revamped its popular “Environment and Health A to Z” booklet, bringing environmental health to life for students, teachers, and the general public. With colorful illustrations, the 13-page booklet describes 26 different topics, one for each letter of the alphabet. The updated booklet introduces emerging topics, such as epigenetics, the microbiome, and Zika virus. It also includes evidence-based suggestions people can use to reduce their exposures and protect their health.
All of Us Seeks Public Input to Inform Tribal Collaborations
In September, the All of Us Research Program issued a Request for Information (RFI) to collect input on how to create meaningful, culturally appropriate collaborations with tribal nations that aim to benefit the health of tribal communities and respect tribal sovereignty. Through this RFI, the program seeks input on such issues as:
- The importance of proper handling of American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) biospecimens in accordance with tribal beliefs and traditions.
- Challenges with handling data from self-identified AI/AN individuals.
- Educating the research community on the avoidance of stigmatizing research.
Responses are due October 31; see the RFI for more information.
NICHD Launches New Five-Year Strategic Plan
The Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) recently released a strategic plan outlining its research priorities for the next five years. It underscores the institute’s longstanding commitment to research aimed at improving the health and wellbeing of women, children, and people with intellectual, physical, and developmental disabilities. It also places special emphasis on research to better understand male reproductive health and the challenges experienced by adolescents during the transition to adulthood. The plan presents NICHD research goals and objectives under five themes:
- Understanding the molecular, cellular, and structural basis of development
- Promoting gynecologic, andrologic, and reproductive health
- Setting the foundation for healthy pregnancies and lifelong wellness
- Improving child and adolescent health and the transition to adulthood
- Advancing safe and effective therapeutics and devices for pregnant and lactating women, children, and people with disabilities
Interwoven into these themes are topics, such as health disparities, nutrition, and disease prevention, that encourage collaboration among multidisciplinary scientific teams. Visit the NICHD Strategic Plan webpage to learn more.
“See a Bloom, Give It Room”: EPA’s Harmful Algal Bloom Video Challenge for Youth
In September, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) launched its “See a Bloom, Give It Room” Harmful Algal Bloom Video Challenge. The challenge encourages high school students to create a short video to teach people how to spot harmful algal blooms and how to be safe around them. Winners will receive cash prizes and their videos will be posted on the EPA website. Participants must be students in grades 9 - 12 and reside in one of the states or tribal lands in EPA Regions 7 and 8. Video submissions are due January 3, 2020. See the EPA webpage to learn more.
In our latest podcast, Understanding the Global Burden of Disease Part Two, learn how the Pollution and Health Initiative aims to expand the number of environmental factors included in the Global Burden of Disease study and how human health impacts are measured. Listen to part one of this two-part series to learn more about the Global Burden of Disease study.
PEPH Grantee Highlight
Ester Min, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Washington, fosters partnerships between academic researchers and communities to address environmental health issues. For example, she works with community partners to investigate how installing high efficiency particulate air cleaners in homes may influence indoor air quality and respiratory symptoms in Latino children with asthma.
“This project is really important to me because we’re going beyond just identifying problems in the community,” said Min. “We go the extra step to identify solutions that can make a difference for children’s health.” Read the Grantee Highlight to learn more.
Supports innovative research to develop and implement effective interventions to address health disparities among U.S. immigrant populations.
Deadline: October 05, 2019
Supports innovative research to understand uniquely associated factors (biological, behavioral, sociocultural, and environmental) that contribute to health disparities or health advantages among U.S. immigrant populations.
Deadline: October 05, 2019
(R01 Clinical Trial Optional; R21 Clinical Trial Optional; R03 Clinical Trial Not Allowed). Supports innovative approaches to identifying, understanding, and developing strategies for overcoming barriers to the adoption, adaptation, integration, scale-up, and sustainability of evidence-based interventions, tools, policies, and guidelines. Conversely, there is a benefit in understanding circumstances that create a need to stop or reduce (“de-implement”) the use of interventions that are ineffective, unproven, low-value, or harmful. In addition, studies to advance dissemination and implementation research methods and measures are encouraged.
Deadline: October 05, 2019 (R01), October 16, 2019 (R03 and R21)
Letter of Intent: Due 30 days prior to the application due date
Supports research that examines how health information technology adoption impacts minority health and health disparity populations in access to care, quality of care, patient engagement, and health outcomes.
Deadline: October 28, 2019
Supports research to advance our understanding of the impact of extreme weather and disaster events in aging human populations. With the companion FOA (PAR-19-249), which focuses on underlying mechanisms of aging utilizing animal models, these two FOAs will help to explicate the behavioral, biological, and socioecological processes that occur during extreme weather or disaster events that affect aging processes. Through the integration of the population studies and the companion mechanistic studies FOA, the goal is to improve the health and well-being of older adults via increased knowledge about extreme weather and disaster preparedness, response, and recovery.
Deadline: November 4, 2019
Letter of Intent: Due 30 days prior to the application due date.
This FOA invites applications from eligible institutions of higher education for specialized center grants to support multidisciplinary research, research capacity building, and community-engaged research activities focused on understanding and reducing or eliminating environmental health disparities, defined as inequities in population health mediated by disproportionate adverse exposures associated with the physical, chemical, social, and built environments.
Technical Assistance Webinar: October 9, 2019. See NOT-MD-20-006
Deadline: November 22, 2019
Letter of Intent: Due 30 days prior to the application due date.
Supports collaborative research between Tribal Epidemiology Centers and extramural investigators on topics related to minority health and health disparities in American Indian / Alaska Native (AI/AN) populations.
Deadline: December 04, 2019
Supports investigator-initiated scientific meetings. NIEHS is interested in supporting meetings that will advance the field of environmental health sciences.
Deadline: December 12, 2019
A letter requesting permission (LRP) to apply is required and must be received six weeks prior to the application receipt date. See the NIEHS conference grant webpage for information about the types of conferences and meetings the institute is interested in supporting, as well as LRP guidelines.
Supports environmental health research in which an unpredictable event provides a limited window of opportunity to collect human biological samples or environmental exposure data. The program aims to understand the consequences of natural and human-caused disasters or emerging environmental public health threats in the U.S. and abroad.
Deadline: See the Funding Opportunity Announcement for application due dates.
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