Research Not Lost in Translation

NIH Initiatives Helping to Improve the Flow of Translational Research

An important motivator for many researchers is to help people — to cure a disease or to improve lives. Translational research describes work that begins in the lab, but also has real-world applications. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) established a “From Bench to Bedside” initiative in 1999 to help support and encourage projects that take basic science from the lab to the doctor’s office. However, it can be years or even decades, before treatments and interventions that seemed promising in initial experiments are routinely used in clinical settings. To speed up this timeline, NIH established a number of initiatives, which were highlighted in a symposium at the APS 23rd Annual Convention.

William Elwood, the facilitator for the Basic Behavioral and Social Science Opportunity Network (OppNet) from the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (OBSSR) at NIH, provided an overview of the program goals. OppNet is a five-year (at a minimum) initiative that began two years ago to stimulate more NIH-funded basic behavioral and social science research. OppNet is co-funded and co-managed by 24 Institutes and four program offices across NIH and provides funding for a variety of projects including meetings as well as research grants. Elwood noted that the majority of projects funded by OppNet are investigator-initiated applications. OppNet’s vision for the future includes gaining a better understanding of basic mechanisms that underlie behavioral and social processes and also to assert the relevancy of basic behavioral and social science research to all of the institutes at NIH. Elwood commented that one of the ways this relevancy is demonstrated is through a symposium series that brings together researchers investigating human behavior and researchers using animal models in similar areas.

Research has shown that when we change behavior, we improve our health. However, behavioral change can be difficult, and maintaining that change is even more challenging. Susan Czajkowski from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute focused her presentation on how we can take what we learn from basic science research and translate those findings into behavioral interventions. As an example, she described the Obesity Related Behavioral Intervention Trials (ORBIT), a cooperative agreement involving seven research centers. The centers support interdisciplinary teams of scientists who are taking basic behavioral research findings and using them to develop new interventions to improve obesity-related behaviors. Through this collaboration, interventions are being developed in a variety of ways. Some of these interventions include using habituation research to get kids to eat more fruits and vegetables and translating basic stress research to create strategies to reduce stress-induced eating in low-income pregnant women. One of the unique features of this program is that it allows opportunities to change directions and alter plans if need be; this is one way that time between basic research and the intervention can be shortened.

Tisha Wiley from OBSSR introduced a new program involving eight institutes at NIH and lead by OBSSR. This funding opportunity, which is based on the ORBIT program, is seeking interdisciplinary groups of scientists to accelerate the translation of basic research into interventions that will improve health-related behaviors (for example diet, exercise, and sun safety). This announcement requires three phases of research: basic research (creating the basis of the intervention), small-scale studies (e.g., to test safety of the intervention), and pilot studies (to see if the intervention will be practical in larger settings).

Christine Hunter from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) spoke about research on dissemination and implementation — research that takes findings from the bedside to the community (public health). She announced new funding for research to determine ways research-tested behavioral interventions can be disseminated and implemented in public health settings. Hunter also mentioned that, related to this funding announcement, NIH hosts a conference each year about the science of dissemination and implementation. In addition to the conference, there are plenty of NIH resources available to researchers for capacity building — there are a number of centers (that can provide expert consultations), workshops, webinars, and training institutes.

Observer Vol.24, No.6 July/August, 2011

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