Amid growing international interest in the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Disaster Research Response (DR2) program, NIEHS and Japan signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) Aug. 30 in Japan. Representatives of the two countries agreed to cooperate on disaster-related research and chemical safety testing.
NIEHS, in collaboration with the National Library of Medicine, serves as the lead for the DR2 Program. The program was started in 2014 with support from NIH Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D. Its rapid progress has involved numerous stakeholders, including federal and state agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and community partners.
Mutual sharing of valuable expertise
NIEHS and National Toxicology Program Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., and Chiho Watanabe, Ph.D., president of Japan’s National Institute of Environmental Studies (NIES), signed the document during Birnbaum’s visit to Japan.
The DR2 program provides information, including research and training materials, to help facilitate vital and timely research related to medical and public health aspects of disasters and other public health emergencies.
"NIEHS and NIES have valuable expertise and resources to share with each other," Birnbaum said. "The Fukushima experience, which we hope will never be repeated, intensified interest in disaster response research, much as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and Superstorm Sandy did in the U.S."
Birnbaum visited Fukushima Sept. 1 and observed ongoing cleanup and rebuilding. The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant experienced a meltdown after a March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
Collaborate to strengthen future responses
NIEHS Senior Medical Advisor Aubrey Miller, M.D., is the institute's lead for DR2. He explained that the new agreement builds on the two countries’ past cooperation in environmental health research. "NIES saw what we had built through our DR2 program and wanted to work together more closely to further improve time-critical research capabilities in the two countries, and more broadly," he explained.
The DR2 website, hosted by the National Library of Medicine, offers data collection tools, research protocols, training and exercises, disaster research news, and other resources.
Under the agreement with Japan, additional materials will be created to address cultural sensitivities and support the research community, including translation into Japanese and English, as needed.
The next step is already in the works. Later this year, Miller and NIEHS epidemiologist Richard Kwok, Ph.D., will travel to Japan to discuss the DR2 program and identify goals and objectives for the coming year. Kwok is a lead researcher on the NIEHS GuLF STUDY of workers and volunteers involved in cleanup activities related to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
In April, Miller presented an overview of the DR2 Program to attendees at the Asian Conference on Occupational and Environmental Health in Taiwan. The presentation generated a great deal of interest among participants to further efforts among Asian nations, including recent inquiries from Thailand.
"International interest in pursuing work in this area continues to grow," Miller noted. Canada is also developing a disaster research response program, and Miller serves on the advisory board.