The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) seeks to advance understanding of how environmental agents impact human health by supporting a rich collection of research activities. This is reflected in the broad scope of the NIEHS grants portfolio (http://tools.niehs.nih.gov/portfolio/), which spans molecular, cellular and whole animal laboratory-based studies to population-based research. The integration of knowledge arising from these disparate approaches and disciplines can be achieved most effectively in transdisciplinary/translational research environments. NIEHS has a special interest in promoting such integrative research efforts, which hold promise for accelerating progress toward achieving improvements in public health. For the purpose of this FOA, translational research is defined as research that involves the bidirectional flow of information across the spectrum of in vitro, model organisms, animal models, human population or clinically-based research to provide data useful for the prevention of, or the intervention in, human disease. Transdisciplinary research is defined as research that involves scientists from multiple disciplines working interactively on a common problem to develop novel cross-disciplinary methods, insights and research approaches that would not have occurred with a traditional uni-disciplinary investigation.
Many of the large NIEHS-supported programs such as the Centers for Children’s Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research and the Breast Cancer and the Environment Research Program support translational and/or transdisciplinary research by encompassing both fundamental and human-based translational research and in many cases community engagement activities. The greater part of the NIEHS grants portfolio comprises individual research projects, however, and few of these fully incorporate integrative research aims. This reflects, in part, difficulties that investigators face in pursuing interdisciplinary and collaborative research in the context of a single research project. These include a lack of resources to form and nurture early-stage collaborations and enable production of preliminary data to establish the feasibility and value of bringing together multiple disciplines and approaches. Long distance collaborations, where investigators with complementary expertise are located at different institutions, create additional challenges for sustained engagement of interdisciplinary teams.
In 2010, NIEHS developed the Virtual Consortium for Translational/Transdisciplinary Environmental Research (ViCTER) program. This program addressed key obstacles in conducting integrative research in the context of a single research project. However, since this original version of ViCTER existed as a supplement program for currently supported NIEHS R01 awardees, it restricted the number of potential applicants and provided limited time for the newly formed teams to collaborate and establish a record of productivity.
This new funding opportunity announcement represents an update to the ViCTER program and includes a set-aside of funds and a special review. ViCTER is intended to encourage investigators with interest and expertise in areas relevant to the field of environmental health sciences to develop and implement a translational and/or transdisciplinary research project. ViCTER projects are expected to foster a better understanding of the mechanism of disease/dysfunction in those areas where environmental factors are known or are suspected to influence the development or progression of disease. Eligibility for this updated ViCTER program does not depend on whether an applicant has existing or prior NIEHS funding. The initiative will allow investigators to extend existing areas of research in new directions and/or develop novel lines of inquiry through the creation of a virtual consortium that includes new perspectives, such as basic mechanistic, clinical, epidemiological, computational, engineering and/or health risk communication approaches. By implementing translational and/or transdisciplinary approaches, investigators will be able to improve the potential impact of their work on public health.
The NIEHS Division of Extramural Research and Training (DERT) recently generated a Translational Research Framework to capture the full spectrum of translational and interdisciplinary research related to environmentally relevant exposures and diseases. Applicants are encouraged to refer to the following publication for more information: https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/ehp3657
The primary goal for creating this ViCTER program is to support the exchange of knowledge among individuals from a diverse set of disciplines and accelerate the translation of scientific research into meaningful improvements in human health in those areas where environmental factors are known or suspected to influence the development or progression of disease. To accomplish this goal, each newly established collaborative team is expected to initiate research in the development and application of novel approaches for understanding the etiology of environmentally-related disease and, where appropriate, explore clinical and public health implications for diagnosis, treatment and/or prevention.
Each ViCTER consortium must consist of at least three key participants (the PD/PI plus two scientists designated by the PD/PI as “co-investigators”) that together represent a newly collaborative team. For the purposes of this FOA, a team is considered newly collaborative if there are no co-authored original research publications among the PD/PI and co-investigators within the last 5 years (excluding reviews, white papers, commentaries etc.). NIEHS strongly recommends but does not require that at least one co-investigator be at a different institution from the PD/PI.
A critical component of the ViCTER program, particularly in cases where team members are located at different institutions, is their virtual aspect. This allows researchers at remote locations to form a consortium to integrate their research through the development of a virtual center that “houses” the overall ViCTER project. The PD/PI serves as the Director of the consortium and is responsible for scheduling regular conference calls (at least monthly) and in-person (at least yearly) meetings.
The PD/PI must propose a series of aims that are thematically related, foster collaboration among team members and reflect transdisciplinary/translational approaches to environmental health. The PD/PI and co-investigators should each have a substantial and meaningful role in developing and conducting the overall ViCTER project, demonstrated by each assuming primary responsibility for leading one or more of the proposed Specific Aims.
NIEHS particularly encourages applicants to propose research aims that are high risk/high reward which, if successful, are likely to contribute significantly to one or more areas of environmental science and be the motivator of future collaborative research.
The proposed ViCTER project must fall within the NIEHS mission. Environmental agents which are considered of primary interest for NIEHS include: industrial chemicals or manufacturing byproducts, metals, pesticides, herbicides, air pollutants and other inhaled toxicants, particulates or fibers, fungal, and bacterial or biologically derived toxins. Investigators who propose studies with a primary focus on NIEHS mission relevant exposures are encouraged to consider inclusion of other relevant environmental exposures (e.g., nutrition) in order to assess their role(s) as cofactors/modifiers of the risk or protection associated with the primary exposure(s). Applications that propose laboratory-based studies using only model compounds (i.e., those without potential for human exposure) must provide a clear, reasonable and specific description as to how research on the model compound will lead to a better understanding of the mechanisms involved in responses to specific environmental agents which are included in the mission responsibility of the NIEHS.
Examples of collaborative research projects responsiveto this ViCTER FOA include, but are not limited to, projects that seek to:
- Establish causal links between a toxicant and altered reproductive function in humans through studies in different experimental systems and levels of analysis (whole animal models, cell culture, in silico modeling) to compare site of action; dissect cellular mechanism(s); and identify response biomarkers that may be appropriate for use in clinical settings
- Evaluate the role of environmental agents in risk for psychiatric disorders through parallel learning and memory studies conducted in rodents and human adolescents, together with preliminary studies to assess the feasibility of using brain imaging methods to probe relevant functional networks in one or both species.
- Assess the impact of multiple endocrine disrupting-chemicals (EDC) on child development through collaborative studies to determine the association of EDC exposure and growth trajectory in a childhood cohort; develop laboratory assays to evaluate estrogenic effects of real world complex mixtures; and apply innovative methods to engage with community partners to disseminate information about potential health hazards of EDC.
- Determine mechanisms of cardiovascular disease risk from ambient air pollution through complementary studies to detect epigenomic and transcriptional signatures of exposure and disease susceptibility in human populations; develop improved statistical models for dissecting contributions of individual chemicals in complex air pollutant mixtures to disease risk; and conduct controlled exposure studies in animals to pursue the biology underlying associations observed associations.
- Identify effects of environmental chemicals on critical pathways in development of obesity and diabetes through the collective efforts of neuroscientists, endocrinologists, immunologists and toxicologists using rodent models to demonstrate chemical exposure-induced obesity phenotypes; assess potential immune alterations; explore the role of structural and functional changes in regulation of energy balance by the central nervous system; and assess feasibility of detecting obesity-related immune signatures in human biosamples.
- Explore the role of the exposure-induced alterations in the gut microbiome in the development and progression of human disease through complementary studies that characterize the gut microbiome in human populations with known exposure and clinical histories; identify causal relationships among exposures, alterations in the gut microbiome and health outcomes in animal models; and explore feasibility of possible interventions to prevent or reverse harmful exposure-induced changes in gut microbial populations.
- Investigate genetic susceptibility and resilience to environmental exposures through data harmonization and coordinated analyses of available GWAS studies; develop and validate improved statistical methods to identify GXE; and conduct functional genomic studies in cell culture and whole animal experimental systems to understand underlying biologic mechanisms.
The preceding examples are provided only to illustrate collaborative projects in keeping with the spirit of the ViCTER FOA. These examples fall within the broad mission areas of the NIEHS, but do not necessarily designate areas of highest priority. It is expected that applicants will develop collaborative translational/transdisciplinary approaches that blend the unique skills of specific members of the team to address a significant question in environmental health sciences.
Deadlines: December 3, 2018; December 2, 2019; December 1, 2020 (letters of intent due 30 days before the deadline)
Filed Under: Funding Opportunities