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Environmental Factor

March 2011

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Council moves ahead with strategic planning and concept clearances

By Ernie Hood
March 2011

National Advisory Environmental Health Sciences (NAEHS) Council meeting in full atendance

For the first time in several years, every Council member was in attendance for the Feb. 16-17 meeting. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

NIEHS/NTP Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D.

Along with an update about the budgetary situation, NIEHS/NTP Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., briefed Council on staff changes, recent activities, and honors for the Institute. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Although uncertain budget prospects cast a bit of a pall over the proceedings, the National Advisory Environmental Health Sciences (NAEHS) Council( accomplished a great deal in its two-day meeting Feb. 16-17.

One highlight was the first appearance before Council by new NIEHS Deputy Director Richard Woychik, Ph.D.( He briefed the Council members on his initial major project-the 15-month, highly inclusive process of formulating a new Strategic Plan for the Institute. The plan, which will include the composition of new NIEHS mission and vision statements, will guide Institute activities and priorities from 2012-2016 (see related story).

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Along with discussing the upcoming Strategic Plan and speculating about how NIEHS could best weather a flat or reduced budget, Council also voted to approve seven innovative new Concept Clearances (see text box).

Updates on DERT, NTP, and neuroscience research at NIEHS

NIEHS Division of Extramural Research and Training (DERT) Director Gwen Collman, Ph.D.(, updated Council on extramural grant-making activities, including an in-depth discussion of the philosophies underlying NIEHS DERT practices and the many challenges facing the division in the coming years. NTP Associate Director John Bucher, Ph.D.(, reported to Council about the major, three-day NTP workshop held in January in Raleigh, NC by the NTP-"Role of Environmental Chemicals in the Development of Diabetes and Obesity."( The workshop was organized by Kristina Thayer, Ph.D., director of the NTP Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction.

As part of the update by NIEHS Acting Scientific Director David Miller, Ph.D., Council was also treated to a fascinating scientific lecture by Serena Dudek, Ph.D., the principal investigator of the Synaptic and Developmental Plasticity Group in the NIEHS Laboratory of Neurobiology (see related story).

The NAEHS Council will meet again May 18-20.

(Ernie Hood is a contract writer for the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison.)

NIEHS Deputy Director, Richard Woychik, Ph.D.

In his first appearance before Council, Woychik described the 15-month process of composing a new Strategic Plan for the Institute for 2012-2016. The process is designed to ensure maximum engagement of all NIEHS personnel and all external stakeholder groups. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Kenneth Ramos, Ph.D.

Council member Kenneth Ramos, Ph.D., of the University of Louisville, makes a point about the Strategic Planning process during one of the Council's discussion periods. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Jerry Heindel, Ph.D.

Jerry Heindel, Ph.D., acting chief of the DERT Cellular, Organs and Systems Pathobiology Branch made the first of several Concept Clearances that Council considered. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Gwen  Collman, Ph.D.

Despite the looming budgetary issues, Collman was still able to enjoy a light-hearted moment during Council proceedings. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Concept clearances

DERT program administrators and health scientist administrators presented concepts for new programs, funding mechanism changes, and new partnerships for advancing research and training in the environmental health sciences (EHS). They also proposed the new programs using several different grant mechanisms (see NIH list of Activity Codes( Exit NIEHS):

  • A Program Announcement (PA) on the role of environmental chemical exposures in the development of obesity, diabetes and metabolic syndrome, comprised of R01 and R21 grant opportunities
  • A Request for Applications (RFA) on environmental influences on stem cells in development, health, and disease
  • A DERT-NTP collaboration on transgenerational inheritance in mammals after exposure (TIME)
  • A proposal for an NIEHS Translational Research Program reviving the P01 grant mechanism, which has been under a moratorium since 2007
  • A proposal to enhance research resources in the environmental health sciences through R24 and P41 grant mechanisms - neither of which NIEHS has offered previously - that would provide the EHS community access to unique capacity, technology, and tools
  • A proposal to enhance undergraduate EHS training opportunities by participating in the NIH Summer Research Experience Program (R25), supplementing the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) Minority Access to Research Careers (MARC) Undergraduate Student Training in Academic Research (U-STAR) awards (T34), and continuing to provide administrative supplements to support research experiences for high school students and college undergraduates

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