Document charts course to guide future research directions for scientific community
December 4, 2012
A document charting a research course for the many collaborators who share an interest in promoting the science concerning human development through the life span, child health, women's health, and rehabilitation research is now available online.
Scientific Vision: The Next Decade, has been posted on the Web site of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) and is available at http://www.nichd.nih.gov/publications/pubs/Documents/NICHD_scientific_vision120412.pdf (PDF - 1.98 MB). Released at the approach of the NICHD's 50th anniversary, the vision statement is the culmination of an extensive process in which institute staff met with experts from a number of scientific disciplines to set directions for future research.
"Beyond creating a statement itself, the scientific Visioning process was designed to bring together diverse voices that could assemble and generate new perspectives for existing research problems and assist in identifying new opportunities," wrote NICHD Director Alan E. Guttmacher, M.D., in a preface to the Vision Statement. "In the next decade, we must be ambitious and choose research questions not because they are the easiest to answer, but because they are the most important."
The process began with institute staff and members of its advisory council developing a series of broad themes to focus discussions on the institute's future scientific endeavors. These discussions took place during 9 scientific workshops and in a final meeting held to reach consensus. In all, the institute convened more than 700 experts from a variety of disciplines-- most of them outside the NIH-- to develop nine white papers describing a shared view of where and how to direct future research. The resulting Vision statement, developed from the white papers, encompasses broad scientific goals and specific research initiatives in these 7 areas:
Beginning at the cellular and molecular level, developmental biology is concerned with understanding such key processes as how embryos begin, form limbs and organs, and develop into mature organisms. The goal of this research area is to predict, identify and ameliorate the steps leading to birth defects and other variations in human structure and functioning. Advances in genomics-- the study of the entire genome-- offer new ways to study development and even to reprogram cells to develop new organs and tissues.
Highlights: Within the next 10 years, researchers should be able to compile a comprehensive guide to developmental defects. They should also be able to construct a library of cell types that eventually can be used to form organs and tissues that can be used for medical treatments.
Developmental Origins of Health and Disease
Complex interactions between biological and environmental factors, starting before conception, influence development across the life span of the individual and future generations. Knowledge of these factors promises a future in which clinicians will be able to predict, and act to prevent, treat, or reverse disease.
Highlights: Within the next 10 years, researchers should be able to establish a tissue bank of placentas, for analysis of molecular, genetic, and environmental clues to human health and disease. In addition, they should begin to develop a multigenerational study of the genetic and environmental factors underlying human health.
Pregnancy and Pregnancy Outcomes
Millions throughout the world are at risk for such complications of pregnancy as gestational diabetes, hypertension, preterm birth, and stillbirth. To understand the problems that arise during pregnancy, research is needed, first, to understand the normal progression of a pregnancy.
Highlights: Within the next ten years, researchers should be able to develop a comprehensive index of the causes of stillbirth and preterm birth and outline measures to prevent them. They should also be able to develop a comprehensive reference on development in the womb, which would include the genetic and other factors underlying normal and atypical development.
Reproductive health depends on the ability to control fertility through a range of effective male and female contraceptive options and to access to effective assisted reproduction techniques when they are needed.
Highlights: Within the next 10 years, researchers should be able to chart the cellular development of male and female reproductive cells, develop new male and nonhormonal contraceptive methods, understand how microbes in the reproductive tract change with development and how these changes affect health, and identify the genetic and nongenetic factors underlying the genesis of at least three major gynecological disorders.
Behavior and Cognition
Behavioral factors can promote positive health outcomes or increase the risk of adverse ones. Cognition is a lifelong process that underlies human functioning. Improved understanding of behavior and cognition stands to ameliorate developmental conditions or help individuals interact with the world in ways that can sustain or improve their health and well-being.
Highlights: Within the next 10 years, researchers should be able to identify 5000 genetic variants that influence specific behaviors or cognitive traits, understand the neurological basis, developmental trajectories, and biologic markers for 5 behavioral or cognitive disorders, identify the causes of autism spectrum disorder and use that knowledge to develop effective interventions.
Plasticity and Rehabilitation
Plasticity refers to the mechanisms underlying adaptive or maladaptive change to cells, organs, and tissues. Understanding plasticity is essential for understanding human development and rehabilitiation. Once thought to occur only in early life, plasticity has now been shown to occur across the lifespan. The challenge is to build upon this understanding to improve functioning after injury, other forms of trauma, and disease.
Highlights: Within the next 10 years, researchers should be able to understand how the nervous system responds to the environment, in health and after injury. They should also be able to develop robotics to allow individuals with disabilities to maximize their daily functioning, develop rehabilitative interventions, such as upper and lower limb prostheses that can be used throughout the world and in resource poor settings. Other objectives include improved understanding of how the brain responds to concussive injury, and developing effective measures for prevention and treatment, and understanding and comparing the key factors controlling plasticity in newborns, infants, children and adolescents to those in adulthood.
Understanding how the forces that shape populations can influence health, together with understanding why some populations with similar genetic endowments and environmental exposures experience diverse health outcomes, can inform the development of effective population- and community-based interventions and can help identify factors that can eliminate health disparities.
Highlights: Within the next 10 years, scientists should be able to identify the environmental and genetic factors that mediate the health of individuals, families and communities. They should also be able to understand the factors influencing the health and longevity of persons with physical and developmental disabilities. Based on this knowledge, they should be able to develop better community and population based health care and living options for persons with intellectual, developmental, and physical differences.
Conduct of Science
The NICHD's scientific Visioning process identified many promising opportunities in all areas of biomedical research, and was not limited to the institute's mission. One avenue to success is increased transdisciplinary science-- collaboration and cooperation among researchers in diverse fields. Another involves new approaches to utilizing the vast amount of scientific information that will result from complex long term studies and repositories housing lifetimes of biological specimens.
Highlights: Within the next 10 years, researchers should be able to develop biorepositories that capture the diversity of the U.S. population, involve the public in better reporting, identification, and definition of normal life processes, such as pregnancy, child development, and adolescence and, through open access policies-- making data generated from these efforts available to those who require it.
About the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD): The NICHD sponsors research on development, before and after birth; maternal, child, and family health; reproductive biology and population issues; and medical rehabilitation. For more information, visit the Institute's Web site at http://www.nichd.nih.gov/.
About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit http://www.nih.gov.