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DISCOVER-A New Research Opportunity

By Jerry Phelps
June 2006

DISCOVER web page

The Division of Extramural Research and Training (DERT) hosted a meeting in Rodbell Auditorium on May 23 for potential applicants to a new Centers program called DISCOVER (Disease Investigation through Specialized Clinically Oriented Ventures in Environmental Research). According to the Program's website, DISCOVER "will facilitate the integration of mechanistically driven and patient-oriented research to speed the translation of the environmental health sciences into clinical and public health applications."

About twenty potential applicants were present along with 13 more watching a webcast of the event. Claudia Thompson, chair of the Integrated Medicine Initiative Committee (IMIC), the DERT group that developed the Program, opened the meeting by welcoming both audiences and by introducing the members of IMIC. Next, Anne Sassaman, Director DERT discussed how DISCOVER will build on the strengths of NIEHS research in basic science, public health application, and translation and how it fits into the recently released NIEHS Strategic Plan. She outlined the goals of

DISCOVER, which are to provide a focus on human diseases and pathogenesis, increase the number of physician-scientists in the environmental health sciences, develop improved measures of exposure, and to use exposure to environmental agents as a tool to understand biology. Sassaman also thanked the members of IMIC for developing the program on a tight timeline and for writing the request for applications that potential grantees will respond to with grant proposals.

The Program requires a Center Director and a lead Physician-Scientist each at a minimum of 15 percent level of effort. At least four research projects headed by Principal Investigators are required by each applicant institution; two must be public health or patient-oriented clinical research and two must be mechanistically-driven basic research projects. The role of the Physician-Scientist is to ensure the integration and translation of the basic findings into clinically-oriented outcomes such as new diagnostic tools, biomarkers, or new treatment or prevention strategies.

Various members of IMIC presented the scientific and administrative aspects of the Program and the granting process. Speakers included David Balshaw, Lisa Archer, Janice Allen and Jerry Heindel, and Jerry Phelps. Other members of IMIC in attendance included Kim Gray, Cindy Lawler, and Kim McAllister.

The potential applicants were informed of the central themes of the program, fiscal and administrative matters related to the grant application, the specific review criteria for DISCOVER, how to put together a top notch application, and how success of the program will be evaluated to determine future directions.

Questions from the audience and those submitted by email from webcast viewers focused mostly on technical issues related to amount of effort by key members of the research team and clarification of their roles.

Four to six grants will be awarded for five years from the pool of applications. NIEHS set aside $9 million from the FY07 budget to begin the program. Applications are due on November 17 and awards are expected to be made on August 1, 2007. For more information, visit the web-site at

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