Update on the NICHD Strategic Plan and Outreach Activities

Rohan Hazra, Diana Bianchi, Denise Russo
At the rural Nandi County Clinic in Western Kenya: NICHD Director Diana Bianchi, M.D. (center), with Rohan Hazra, M.D., Chief (left), and Denise Russo, Ph.D., Deputy Chief (right), NICHD Maternal and Pediatric Infectious Disease Branch.

Recently, I traveled to Kenya to tour NICHD project sites and meet with many NICHD-supported investigators. The agenda was jam-packed, with visits to the busy public hospital in Nairobi as well as rural sites in Western Kenya. It was an unforgettable experience. Witnessing firsthand the effects of HIV/AIDS on the children and families in Kenya was striking. At the same time, I was inspired by many of the women there, particularly those in the DREAMS (Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored, and Safe women) program, which seeks to reduce HIV infections among adolescent girls and young women in 10 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Administered by the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS research, the DREAMS partnership includes the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation and other private organizations. Overall, the trip highlighted the significant commitment that NICHD is making to global health.

I also attended the annual meeting of the Society for Maternal Fetal Medicine (SMFM) in Las Vegas. In the opening plenary session I had the opportunity to present an update on our strategic planning process to the entire assembly. In another session I spoke about the detection of maternal cancer as an unexpected finding following noninvasive prenatal genomic testing, a topic that we are pursuing in my research laboratory in collaboration with the Women’s Malignancies Branch at the National Cancer Institute. The SMFM members were enthusiastic about the strategic plan, responding with many suggestions for “big ideas” that NICHD could tackle.

Speaking of strategic planning, now that our Request for Information has closed, NICHD staff will be analyzing the responses and convening small working groups to review and finalize the plan’s research themes. Also, we have had spirited discussions about the institute’s mission and vision statements. I’m looking forward to continued engagement with staff as we near the final steps of the strategic planning process.

One area of focus for the new strategic plan will be the partnerships that we can form to help further our research goals and objectives. This month, Drs. Constantine Stratakis (NICHD Scientific Director), Forbes “Denny” Porter (NICHD Clinical Director), and I visited several hospitals in the greater metropolitan Washington D.C. area to discuss possible clinical research partnerships in obstetrics and neonatology. We also visited the Children’s National Research and Innovation Campus. a facility at the old Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, DC, that, once-constructed, will focus on research opportunities in pediatric and genomic medicine. Such partnerships would broaden the network of researchers that NICHD works with, as well as facilitate engagement with our local community.

We are also working on partnerships within NIH. The trans-NIH Pediatric Research Consortium (N-PeRC) met in February to discuss ways to coordinate research efforts across NIH. The group is particularly interested in issues around data resources and the adolescent-to-adult-transition period. We continue to have robust participation in this group across NIH institutes and are looking forward to future endeavors with this group. More information about N-PeRC is available at https://www.nichd.nih.gov/research/supported/nperc.