Observances of the NIEHS 50th anniversary moved north to Washington, D.C., with a Nov. 16 legislative briefing and congressional reception, sponsored by the Friends of NIEHS.
The Friends is a coalition of nearly 50 environmental, health, and children’s health organizations that raises awareness on Capitol Hill about NIEHS research. The events, which attracted about 100 attendees, recognized 50 years of NIEHS accomplishments, connecting high-impact environmental health research with community needs.
Friends celebrate NIEHS accomplishments
Members of the Friends of NIEHS range from groups of medical professionals, such as the American Thoracic Society (ATS) and American Academy of Pediatrics, to disease- and condition-specific groups, such as the Breast Cancer Fund and Autism Speaks. There are also broader range interest groups represented, including the Healthy Schools Network, Children’s Environmental Health Network, and Society for Women’s Health Research.
“Our organizations recognize how important the research programs at NIEHS are to our nation’s health,” wrote Friends leader and driving force behind both events, Nuala Moore, ATS director of government relations. “We join together to highlight the major research accomplishments achieved by NIEHS’ intramural [in-house] scientists and academic and community grantees.”
The Friends’ enthusiastic support for the scientific and public health contributions of NIEHS scientists and grantees was reflected in a special article in the latest issue of ATS News.
Prevention leads to return on investment
U.S. Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina co-hosted the luncheon and legislative briefing in the Russell Senate Office Building. NIEHS and National Toxicology Program (NTP) Director and Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., moderated a panel that included a representative of The Honest Company and three high-profile grantees (see text box).
Three NIEHS Friends members collaborated to select panelists — Moore; Joseph Laakso, Ph.D., from the Endocrine Society; and Mary Gant, former NIEHS legislative liaison, now with the Green Science Policy Institute.
In her overview of NIEHS, Birnbaum pointed out that its mission, with an emphasis on disease prevention, distinguishes the institute from its sister organizations at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). She also emphasized the unique potential of NIEHS research to give taxpayers an impressive return on investment, citing this year’s World Health Organization report, “Preventing Diseases Through Healthy Environments: A Global Assessment of the Burden of Disease from Environmental Risks.”
“Thirteen million deaths could be prevented per year by improving our environment,” she said. “Environmental factors influence 85 of the 102 noncommunicable diseases [mentioned in the report]. Environmental factors account for at least two-thirds of cancer cases in the United States.”
Partnering at community and global levels
Birnbaum also emphasized NIEHS partnerships with communities. “We believe our science is stronger when our researchers involve and engage the community,” she said. “We also need to make sure we’re communicating with stakeholders, understanding public health concerns in their communities, and translating our research so that it can be applied to help improve their health.”
Later the same day, representatives, dignitaries, and congressional staffers attended an evening reception in the Rayburn House Office Building. NIH Principal Deputy Director Lawrence Tabak, D.D.S., Ph.D., served as master of ceremonies and introduced a keynote talk by Birnbaum.
Each of the speakers addressed the message that concluded Birnbaum’s presentation. “Working together we can improve human health across the lifespan and across the globe,” she said.
(Eddy Ball, Ph.D., is a contract writer with the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison.)