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Director Challenges DIR Investigators

By Blondell Peterson
February 2006

NIEHS Director David Schwartz invites all Institute Intramural investigators to participate in a new program called the Director's Challenge to DIR Investigators: Program in Integrative Research. This program is designed to encourage integrative research between clinical and basic scientists. The main objective of the program is to develop new interdisciplinary research programs whose focus is designed to understand human disease and improve human health.

Investigators will form research teams made up of intramural experts who are basic scientist, physician scientists, public health scientists, toxicologists and scientist National Toxicology Program. According to the Request for Application, each team will collaborate to determine the biological and environmental influences in:

  • Evaluating the impact of environmental and biological exposures on human pathophysiology and disease
  • Identifying the underlying physiological mechanisms in disease pathogenesis and progression,
  • Understanding the exogenous and other endogenous factors that affect the distribution of disease in populations, and
  • Applying the knowledge gained to develop therapeutic, diagnostic, prognostic and preventative environmental public health strategies.

Schwartz released the Request for Applications on Jan. 6, and held an informational meeting for the Division of Intramural Research investigators on Jan. 17. Applicants may request up to $1,000,000 per year in direct costs for a period of up to 6 years. According to Schwartz, it is expected that each program will last 10 years, but will require a review and competitive renewal every 3 years.

"The program is an attempt to bring together the different disciplines that are represented in the Institute," said NIEHS Scientific Director Lutz Birnbaumer. "The idea is to generate grassroots enthusiasm and to think broadly in terms of solving major problems such as inflammation, epigenetics and obesity. We have many experts with varied scientific disciplines at the Institute; therefore, I think we stand a chance of making inroads in any one of these areas."

Some questions that were asked at the informational meeting were, "How important is high risk and how do you define high risk? How important is the synergy, or working together to accomplish a goal that would not be possible to achieve as an individual? Schwartz said high risk is not as high on his list of priorities as synergy.

Deputy Director Sam Wilson said the synergy within the groups in the program will allow scientists to tackle high impact problems successfully beyond the scope of what they can achieve individually or in smaller groups within their single disciplines. "Synergy is a really important part of the program that we are trying to achieve."

Another question asked at the meeting was, "Is the program only limited to NIEHS scientists?" Schwartz said he encourages investigators to look outside NIEHS for collaborators. The core personnel should be inside NIEHS, but there are ways to support the efforts of the investigators outside of the Institute.

Anyone who has questions concerning the DIR Director's Challenge Program in Integrative Research, should contact Joan Packenham, the program's Director and administrator, at (919) 541-0766, Mail Drop A2-09 Room A232 or Packenham requests that each application be preceded with a letter of intent by March 1, 2006. The deadline date for receipt of applications is June 1, 2006.

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