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Environmental Factor

Environmental Factor

Your Online Source for NIEHS News

September 2018

New five-year strategic plan builds on success

The new NIEHS strategic plan updates the goals that guide priorities and leadership in environmental health science research.

A process that began in the spring of 2017 has borne fruit with the NIEHS 2018-2023 Strategic Plan. The document was published ahead of the Sept. 11 meeting of the 20-member National Advisory Environmental Health Sciences Council.

“Our challenge was to set NIEHS research priorities within a rapidly evolving scientific landscape,” said Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., director of NIEHS and the National Toxicology Program. “We want to ensure that science continues to be responsive to meeting the environmental public health needs of all people.”

The planning team was led by Sheila Newton, Ph.D., head of the NIEHS Office of Policy, Planning, and Evaluation. “Many of the previous plan’s priorities are updated, but also organized in a new way,” she said. “Our new concept in this plan is to raise our translational work to a higher profile, pulling it together under the theme of Data to Knowledge to Action.”

Keeping up with scientific progress

The new plan takes as its starting point many of the goals in the 2012-2017 plan.

The NIEHS website now presents examples of the highlights and accomplishments achieved by the institute and its grantees under the previous plan’s goals.

Sheila Newton speaking Newton’s office serves as liaison between Congressional staff, government, health, and science agencies, as well as other organizations. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

In the new plan, those goals are updated to account for the dramatic changes that have taken place in environmental health sciences. Three interdependent themes guide the priorities.

  • Advancing environmental health sciences.
  • Promoting translation — data to knowledge to action.
  • Enhancing scientific stewardship and support.

This organization, Newton explained, harkens back to the NIEHS’s founding document. “If you go back to the Public Service Act (1966), our activities are framed as research, dissemination, and training,” said Newton. “You can trace that original mission to our three themes now.”

Promoting the core mission

Linda Birnbaum speaking Birnbaum said that the previous plan led NIEHS and the field of environmental health sciences to new achievements. The work must continue to keep pace with the old challenges that continue and new ones that arise. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

The themes are embodied in 19 goals that promote the NIEHS core mission, which is to discover how the environment affects people in order to promote healthier lives at the individual, community, and global levels. The list below illustrates a few of the goals for each theme.

    1. Advancing environmental health sciences.
      1. Data science and big data.
      2. Individual susceptibility across the lifespan.
      3. Predictive toxicology.
    2. Promoting translation — data to knowledge to action.
      1. Environmental health disparities and environmental justice.
      2. Partnerships for action.
      3. Emerging environmental health issues.
    3. Enhancing scientific stewardship and support.
      1. Promotion of collaborative science.
      2. Scientific research and data infrastructure.
      3. Evaluation of impacts.

“This strategic plan continues to align with the broader goals of the National Institutes of Health [NIH] strategic plan,” Birnbaum said.

Working with council and stakeholders

Council members praised the plan. “The emphasis on community engagement and collaboration, environmental justice, and environmental health disparities stand out as the most forward-looking such approaches in all of NIH,” said council member Phil Brown, Ph.D., from Northeastern University.

“We’re excited to promote the translation of our research into real action, into actual public health effects that will fulfill our mission to promote healthier lives,” said Newton. “This plan is where we try to make our research rubber meet the road.”

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

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