NIH 1998 Almanac/The Organization/NIEHS/
National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences : Major Programs
Protecting the general health of Americans and
preventing environmentally related diseases are recognized government responsibilities.
The NIEHS through its research programs is providing a health science base for prevention
and control activities. In doing this, the institute focuses not on specific body organs
or diseases but on agents and processes--the ways and means through which mans
health can be adversely affected by chemical and physical agents in the environment.
Population expansion and growth of technology
have increased environmental contamination problems. New forms of energy production,
expanded uses of plastics and aerosols, and greater development of the chemical industry
pose the problem of releasing toxic chemicals into the environment. Recent experiences
with asbestos, mercury, vinyl chloride, bischloromethyl ether, methyl butyl ketone,
sulfuric acid mist, polychlorinated and polybrominated biphenyls, kepone, dioxins,
methylisocy-anate, and chlorophenol indicate these compounds are not theoretical threats
but real causes of illness and death.
The institute consists of the Divisions of
Intramural Research; Extramural Research and Training; and Toxicology Research and
The Division of Extramural Research and
Training supports investigators at colleges, universities, and research foundations
through individual research grants, program project grants and other support mechanisms.
These research activities provide information essential to an understanding of the way in
which human health is adversely affected by chemical, physical and other environmental
factors. The breadth of the institutes mission dictates a multidisciplinary approach
to problem solving which involves major biological, chemical, and physical science
The division develops priorities and funding
levels to assure maximum utilization of available resources. It maintains an awareness of
national research efforts and assesses the need for research and research training in
environmental health and provides advisory support to the institute in the development of
the research grant policy. Through this division, the institute supports basic and applied
research on the consequences of the exposure of humans to potentially toxic or harmful
agents in the environment.
For administrative purposes, the research is
divided into: 1) biological response to environmental agents 2) applied toxicological
research and testing 3) biometry and risk estimation and 4) resource and manpower
development. Research and training may span one, several, or all program areas.
Environmental Health Sciences Centers. These
centers provide core support to facilitate multidisciplinary research in environmental
health problems. They fill critical needs in the national environmental health program
that cannot be met by individual research grants or program project grants. Each center
has a different thrust and problem orientation. Overall, they serve as national focal
points and resources for research and manpower development in health problems related to
air, water and food pollution occupational and industrial health and safety heavy metal
toxicity agricultural chemical hazards and the relationships of environment to cancer,
birth defects, behavioral anomalies, respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, and diseases
of other organs.
Much of the research conducted by the centers, in
addition to substantive contributions to preventive medicine, has served to clarify the
scope of environmental health problems and future needs in this field.
Marine and Freshwater Biomedical Sciences
Centers. MFBS centers foster multidisciplinary research on marine and freshwater
organisms in the study of mechanisms of toxicity of environmental agents, as models for
human diseases and disorders resulting from exposure to environmental toxicants.
Research Manpower Development Programs.
Research manpower development programs support pre- and postdoctoral training in
toxicology, pathology, mutagenesis, and epidemiology and biostatistics as they pertain to
the environment. Three mechanisms are used to fund training: 1) institutional awards for
pre- and postdoctoral trainees (training programs), 2) individual awards for postdoctoral
fellows only (fellowship awards), and 3) senior fellowship awards to support training for
new research oriented physician-researchers to enhance the teaching of environmental and
occupational medicine. The division uses the environmental/occupational medicine academic
award for curriculum and institutional resource development.
The Superfund Basic Research Program is
university-based basic research supported by NIEHS as part of the 1986 Superfund
Amendments and Reauthorization Act. It combines basic research in the fields of ecology,
engineering, and hydrogeology into a core program of biomedical research to provide a
broader and more detailed body of scientific information to be used in decisionmaking
related to the management of hazardous substances.
The Division of Intramural Research (DIR)
plans and conducts basic, applied, and clinical research directed toward increasing
fundamental knowledge of environmentally related diseases and disorders. Broad
multidisciplinary research approaches are used including basic mechanistic studies at the
cellular and molecular level, applied toxicology testing, and clinical and epidemiology
studies. Intramural scientists address such complex research issues as genetic
susceptibility, receptor mediated pathobiol-ogy, differentiation and development, signal
transduction, environmental regulation of cell proliferation and cell death, environmental
carcinogenesis and mutagenesis, and environmental epidemiology.
These research endeavors, in turn, support
specific biomedical and clinical program interests of the institute such as environmental
contributions to aging and age-related diseases and conditions (e.g., neurodegener-ative
diseases like Alzheimers and Parkinsons, osteoporosis, cancer of the breast,
prostate, endometrium and lung), environmental factors and respiratory disease (e.g.,
asthma and respiratory fibrosis), environmental contribution to reproductive and
developmental disorders (e.g., infertility, abnormal growth and development, reproductive
senescence), and how environmental factors interact with proteins and other cellular
responses (e.g., abnormal hormonal influences and structures of critical cellular
molecules that are targets of environmental factors).
The DIR pursues its scientific goals principally
through its laboratories and branches in three scientific programs: the Environmental
Biology and Medicine Program, the Environmental Carcinogenesis Program, and the
Environmental Toxicology Program. In addition, a number of interdisciplinary program
projects, clinical studies and international collaborative research projects have been
established to address high priority research areas.