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Environmental Factor, October 2015

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Council meeting addresses NIEHS and NIH developments

By Ernie Hood

Lawrence Tabak

Tabak, shown here during a 2014 council talk, described several areas of opportunity in biomedicine. “We are attempting to display the circularity or continuity of the scientific enterprise,” he explained. “We’ll have a succinct description for each of these opportunities and what NIH needs to do to realize them.” (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Xiaoling Li

Li and her colleagues study the SIRT1 protein in a variety of experimental systems, including animal models, cell culture systems, cell-free assays, and human samples. Metabolic syndrome, which affects approximately 25 percent of American adults, is one of several disease states in which SIRT1 is suspected of playing a role. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

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.)


  • Linda Birnbaum
    1/5

    Birnbaum applauded outgoing council members Lisa Conti, D.V.M.; Vivian Cheung, M.D.; Randall Kramer, Ph.D.; Edward Postlethwait, Ph.D.; and Howard Hu, M.D., Sc.D. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

  • Gwen Collman
    2/5

    Collman presented Division of Extramural Research and Training accomplishments in three categories — raising awareness, building collaborations, and advancing research; moving science forward with programs and initiatives; and building knowledge base with publications and other products. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

  • Kenneth Fasman
    3/5

    Kenneth Fasman, Ph.D., of The Jackson Laboratory, noted the links Collman made between her division’s accomplishments and the institute’s strategic plan. “I have been involved in a lot of strategic planning exercises over the years, and I have never seen an organization embrace the process and embrace the implementation,” he said. Birnbaum agreed, adding, “We’re really living the strategic plan, and I think it’s making a huge difference in what we do.” (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

  • Six members of the core evaluation team
    4/5

    Six members of the core center evaluation team discussed their findings. From left are Elaine Collier, M.D., of the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences; Fasman; council member Phil Brown, Ph.D., from Northeastern University; council member Norbert Kaminski, Ph.D., from Michigan State University; Dan Baden, Ph.D., from University of North Carolina Wilmington; and McCauley. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

  • Thaddeus Schug
    5/5

    Council members unanimously approved a concept presented by NIEHS health scientist administrator Thad Schug, Ph.D., on environmental influences on placental origins of development. The approach includes collaborating with the NIH Human Placenta Project, led by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and developing a cross-disciplinary project on how environmental exposures affect early stage placental and fetal health. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)



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