Environmental Factor, January 2006, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
Comments on Strategic Plan Reflect Wide Range of Interests: Draft Plan Now on Web
By Colleen Chandler
The request for input on the NIEHS Strategic Plan drew nearly 400 responses representing a spectrum of interests from academia, advocacy groups and the general public.
NIEHS Director David Schwartz solicited public comments to assist in the creation of a strategic plan for the Institute. A draft of that plan is now available at: https://www.niehs.nih.gov/about/strategicplan/strategicplan2006/index.cfm.
An electronic questionnaire to gather feedback was posted on the NIEHS web site from June 22 through Aug. 5, but comments were also accepted via mail, fax and e-mail. The electronic questionnaire posed five questions:
- What are the disease processes and public health concerns that are relevant to environmental health sciences?
- How can environmental health sciences be used to understand how biological systems work, why some individuals are more susceptible to disease, or why individuals with the same disease may have very different clinical outcomes?
- What are the major opportunities and challenges in global environmental health?
- What are the environmental exposures that need further consideration?
- What are the critical needs for training the next generation of scientists in environmental health?
The web site generated 379 responses, of which 121 were from universities and research institutions, 26 from within NIEHS. Twenty additional responses came through the mail, by fax or e-mail.
According to an analysis of all survey results conducted by the Office of Science, Policy, and Planning, the survey responses indicate many respondents are concerned about the importance of understanding the mechanisms by which environmental chemicals cause or contribute to the disease process. Other major concerns cited were disease prevention, early intervention in asymptomatic patients, and public education about environmental exposures.
Among the disease processes specifically suggested for NIEHS focus: cancer - particularly breast and lung, respiratory diseases, cardiovascular diseases, neurological dysfunction - specifically Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, senility and cognition, immune system diseases like autoimmune disorders, allergies and immunosuppression, developmental abnormalities including birth defects, autism and learning disabilities, obesity, endocrine disruptors, reproductive dysfunction, diabetes, infectious diseases, and emerging technology such as nanotechnology and genetically modified organisms and food.
Respondents indicated that while they felt environmental toxicants provide a highly relevant means of studying all chronic diseases, they feel more information is needed on how research results can be extrapolated from animals to humans.
Among the challenges ahead in global environmental health, responses included these major themes:
- Coordination and collaboration across the global community;
- Infrastructure to monitor and report on global health issues;
- Public education on environmental issues, beginning in childhood; and
- Interventions related to industrialization and pollution control.