A new leader at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) says members of the public, including all scientists, should help direct the future of research on how the environment influences human health, according to a notice posted in the Federal Register. The NIEHS, an environmental health research arm of the National Institutes of Health, set up a website for responses to six questions critical for defining a new strategic plan.
Within a week of assuming his new role as the Director of NIEHS, Dr. David A. Schwartz announced plans to involve researchers and the community in a strategic planning process. NIEHS will use information obtained to determine the most effective ways to study environmental toxins and human health.
"Almost every complex disease, from diabetes, to obesity and heart disease, to many cancers, is, in part, caused by exposures from the environment," said Dr. Schwartz. "NIEHS is uniquely poised to improve the health of this nation. We are not limited by any one organ, system or disease -- we can use the breadth of our knowledge on environmental exposures to understand and intervene in the disease process. We can use science to reduce morbidity, extend longevity and improve an individual's quality of life."
The strategy is expected to focus on four elements: basic research, human health and disease, global environmental health, and training.
"Having these four areas serve as our backbone will allow us to strategically focus on funding the best science that will have the greatest impact on human health," said Dr. Schwartz. "Having a transparent, inclusive and candid process will allow us to work together to identify new opportunities, establish research priorities, determine the best ways to translate our findings to the field and the public." To officially kick off the strategic planning process, the Institute posted a notice in the Federal Register today. "This will ensure that not only researchers, but members of the public, and those from other disciplines who may not be as familiar with NIEHS, are aware of the priority setting process, and are provided with an opportunity to provide input," Dr. Schwartz said.
A new user friendly page has been developed on the NIEHS website (www.niehs.nih.gov/external/plan2006/home.htm) to allow easy access to individuals who would like to provide input via the Internet. Initially, the Institute is especially interested in responses to six critical questions, including:
What are the disease processes and public health concerns that are relevant to environmental health sciences? How can environmental health sciences be used to understand how biological systems work, why some individuals are more susceptible to disease, or why individuals with the same disease may have very different clinical outcomes? What are the major opportunities and challenges in global environmental health? What are the environmental exposures that need further consideration? What are the critical needs for training the next generation of scientists in environmental health? What technology and infrastructural changes are needed to fundamentally advance environmental health science?
Responses to these questions will be compiled and will be used by a Strategic Planning Group, which will include members of the NIEHS Advisory Council, to develop a brief document outlining the Institute's goals over the next five years. The NIEHS is also soliciting nominations for the planning group. A draft document is expected to be available for public comment this fall.
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