Council meeting addresses NIEHS and NIH developments
By Ernie Hood
The NIEHS National Advisory Environmental Health Sciences Council meeting Sept. 9-10 highlighted important new developments at NIEHS and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
New NIH strategic plan and Common Rule changes
NIH is in the process of formulating a new strategic plan to guide the agency’s mission over the next five years. NIH Deputy Director Lawrence Tabak, D.D.S., Ph.D., briefed the council by phone on the plan’s goals and framework and invited feedback from council members. He said that they have received extensive feedback from stakeholders and the final plan will be submitted to Congress in December.
NIH is also involved in a major effort to modernize and reform the federal rules and regulations, known as the Common Rule, which govern the protection of human research subjects. NIH Associate Director for Science Policy Carrie Wolinetz, Ph.D., briefed the council on the project, as well as the Sept. 8 Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.
The changes are designed to improve safeguards and ensure respect for research participants, and to increase the efficiency of the oversight process. The public may comment on the proposal through Dec. 7.
“I see this as a really important step forward in the protection of human subjects, as well as the facilitation of research,” said Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., director of NIEHS and the National Toxicology Program.
Partnerships and innovation
Every meeting of the council provides an opportunity to update the group on new programs and activities, and this session was no exception.
Liam O’Fallon, Partnerships for Environmental Public Health program lead, updated the council on the tremendous strides made since its inception seven years ago. Today, the program works on a wide variety of issues related to environmental public health, provides an array of educational and outreach resources to the public and scientific community, and communicates information through its newsletter and podcast series.
Daniel Shaughnessy, Ph.D., NIEHS program administrator for the Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs, said that in the near future, these programs will seek to support development of new tools in high priority areas, such as nanomaterial safety and environmental health education. According to Shaughnessy, the two programs saw a significant increase in applications over the past 12 months and will have funded 38 grants by September 30, the close of fiscal year 2015.
Gwen Collman, Ph.D., director of the Division of Extramural Research and Training, provided a detailed rundown of division accomplishments in the past year, and how they related to the 11 goals of the NIEHS 2012-2017 Strategic Plan.
Evaluating research centers
After intensive work, the subcommittee evaluating the NIEHS Environmental Health Sciences Core Centers program reported on its findings (434KB). The team, consisting of four council members and three outside experts, assessed the ability of the centers to produce complex, translational, and emerging environmental health research. Council member Linda McCauley, Ph.D., from Emory University, chaired the subcommittee.
The report’s conclusions were very positive. “It was readily obvious that the centers create a critical hub of environmental health research,” said McCauley, “and there were multiple examples of how centers bring people together, foster interactions, collaborations, training, mentoring, and innovation that would not take place otherwise.”
(Ernie Hood is a contract writer for the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison.)