Initiatives in Environmental Health Science
At the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, staff are encouraged to work together to fulfill the Institute's mission. Some examples of cross-cutting research initiatives that the Office of the Director and the other research divisions, including the National Toxicology Program, are working on include:
- Endocrine Disruptors
- Environmental Epigenetics
- Exposure Biology
- Global Environmental Health
- Gulf Oil Spill Response Efforts
- Institute of Medicine Roundtable on Environmental Health Sciences, Research, and Medicine
- National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Standing Committee on Use of Emerging Science for Environmental Health Decisions
- National Children's Study
Linda S. Birnbaum,
Ph.D., D.A.B.T., A.T.S.
Linda S. Birnbaum is Director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and National Toxicology Program.
NIEHS Strategic Plan
Advancing Science, Improving Health:
A Plan for Environmental Health Research
National Institute of
Environmental Health Sciences
2012 - 2017
Endocrine disruptors are naturally occurring compounds or man-made substances that may mimic or interfere with the function of hormones in the body. Endocrine disruptors may be found in many everyday products– including some plastic bottles, metal food cans, detergents, flame retardants, food, toys, cosmetics, and pesticides. NIEHS and the National Toxicology Program (NTP) support research to understand how these chemicals work, and to understand the effects they may have in various animal and human populations, with the long term goal of developing prevention and intervention strategies to reduce any related health problems.
Epigenetics is the study of changes in the way information stored in DNA is expressed, without direct modification of the genetic code. Some epigenetic changes are part of normal development and aging, but environmental health scientists are studying how environmental factors can cause negative epigenetic changes. NIEHS is focused on a variety of research projects that use state-of-the-art technologies to analyze epigenetic changes caused by environmental exposures. NIEHS-funded researchers use animals, cell cultures, and human tissue samples to pinpoint how epigenetic changes could lead to harmful health effects, and perhaps, be passed down to the next generation. Additionally, the Roadmap Epigenomics Program is a trans-NIH program administered by NIEHS and other NIH Institutes and Centers. This program investigates epigenetic changes across genomes and correlates the presence or absence of specific changes with the development of disease. One major goal is to develop a set of reference epigenomes for normal human tissues and cell types for comparison with diseased tissues and cells.
For more information, visit our NIEHS Environmental Epigenetics webpage.
The field of exposure biology focuses on unraveling how the toxicants a person is exposed to during life can interact with each other, with lifestyle factors, and with a person's genes to cause disease. NIEHS currently supports the development of innovative technologies to measure environmental exposures such as toxicants, diet, physical activity, psychosocial stress, and addictive substances. The goal is to advance environmental health by looking at collections of environmental exposures rather than single events and by measuring exposures more precisely than has previously been possible.
Global Environmental Health
As a public health institute of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) (http://www.nih.gov/) , the NIEHS has a commitment to the goals of protecting and improving global health. With a strong history of international cooperation on environmental health problems and a research vision aimed at solving the puzzles of environmentally induced human disease, the NIEHS is uniquely poised at the forefront of Global Environmental Health (GEH). Global Environmental Health at NIEHS encompasses global research, international fellows training, outreach and capacity building, and service to the scientific community. Other Global Environmental Health program areas include Cookstoves & Indoor Air, Climate Change & Human Health, and Sustainable Development.
Please see the Global Environmental Health page for more information.
Gulf Oil Spill Response Efforts
Since the tragic disaster of the Deepwater Horizon explosion in April 2010, NIEHS has been at the forefront of protecting the health and safety of workers and other responders involved in oil spill clean up efforts.
Please see the full NIEHS Gulf Oil Spill Response Efforts page for more information about NIEHS activities.
Institute of Medicine Roundtable on Environmental Health Sciences, Research, and Medicine
The NIEHS was instrumental in the establishment of the National Academy of Science Institute of Medicine Roundtable on Environmental Health Sciences, Research, and Medicine, and continues to sponsor the panel. The Roundtable was established to provide a mechanism for parties interested in environmental health from the academic, industrial, and federal research perspectives to meet and discuss sensitive and difficult issues of mutual interest in a neutral setting. The purpose is to foster dialogue and discussion among sectors and institutions, and to illuminate issues. Among the landmark publications in the Roundtable’s history is the seminal 2001 report, Rebuilding the Unity of Health and the Environment: A New Vision of Environmental Health for the 21st Century.
Please see the Medicine Roundtable on Environmental Health Sciences, Research, and Medicine page for more information.
Nanotechnology is the art and science of manipulating matter at the nanoscale (down to 1/100,000 the width of a human hair) to create new and unique materials and products. Nanoscale materials are a broadly defined set of substances where at least one critical dimension is less than approximately 100 nanometers. Engineered nanomaterials (ENMs) are being added to consumer products, medical devices, and industrial applications, putting these materials in direct contact with our bodies and our environment. The unique properties that make ENMs useful in the marketplace also raises concerns about how they may act in the body. Currently little is known about the potential health effects of human exposure to these materials. The NIEHS has developed an integrated, strategic research program that includes grantee support, utilizing our in house research expertise, investing in the development of nano-based applications that benefit the environment and public health, and tapping into the world class toxicity testing capabilities of the National Toxicology Program, to understand the impacts of engineered nanomaterials on human health, and to support the goals of the National Nanotechnology Initiative .
Please see the Nanomaterials page to learn more.
National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Standing Committee on Use of Emerging Science for Environmental Health Decisions
The Standing Committee on Use of Emerging Science for Environmental Health Decisions (http://dels.nas.edu/envirohealth/index.shtml) was formed by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) at the request of NIEHS to facilitate communication among government, industry, environmental groups, and the academic community about scientific advances that may be used in the identification, quantification, and control of environmental impacts on human health. New methods and approaches that can be used to identify and control environmental impacts on human health are explored in regular workshops (http://dels.nas.edu/envirohealth/workshops.shtml) that provide a public venue for exchanging information and discussing potential implications for environmental health decisions. The committee also produces and disseminates a newsletter summarizing key issues discussed at the workshops.
National Children's Study
The National Children's Study will determine how genetics and the environment affect children's overall health and development. The investigation will follow 100,000 children from before birth until age 21 and is the largest long-term study of children's health ever performed in the United States.
Please see the National Children's Study (http://www.niehs.nih.gov/about/od/programs/children-study/) page to learn more.
The Tox21 Program (Toxicology in the 21st Century) is an ongoing collaboration among federal agencies to characterize the potential toxicity of chemicals using cells and isolated molecular targets instead of laboratory animals. Tox21 leverages the experimental toxicology expertise of the National Toxicology Program, headquartered at the NIEHS; the high-throughput technology of the NIH Chemical Genomics Center, part of the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences; the computational capabilities of the Environmental Protection Agency and the expertise of the Food and Drug Administration, to test more than 10,000 drugs and chemical using biological assays.
Please see the Tox 21 fact sheet for more information.