FYI from the NHLBI Index

January 2008: Vol. 8, Issue 3
Feature Articles

Framingham Study Participants Honored

NHLBI Presents New Strategic Plan for the Next Decade

Ninth Annual PIO Meeting Scheduled

Framingham Study Participants Honored

On November 29th, top U.S. health officials visited Framingham, Massachusetts, to honor thousands of participants from the NHLBI’s landmark Framingham Heart Study. Prominent speakers at the event included Dr. Elizabeth Nabel, Director of the NHLBI; Dr. Elias Zerhouni, Director of the National Institutes of Health; and Secretary Michael Leavitt, of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

Secretary Leavitt’s presence made this the first time a Secretary of DHHS has visited a community specifically to thank individuals for their participation in medical research. Secretary Leavitt remarked that “the Framingham Study has given us the knowledge and with it the power to make healthier choices, and to prevent disease, and to treat disease more effectively.”

As the study enters its 60th year, it boasts a number of significant accomplishments that have made it widely recognized as one of the most important epidemiological studies. The study elucidated various risk factors for cardiovascular disease, now taken to be common medical knowledge, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, and overweight and, indeed, developed the concept of risk factors for a chronic disease.

The speakers emphasized important future directions for use of Framingham data. Clinical information acquired from three generations of participants and the corresponding genetic information have been entered into a database, called SHARe (SNP [single nucleotide polymorphism] Health Association Resource). This valuable information is available to researchers through SHARe, subject to appropriate safeguards to protect the privacy of participants. In discussing the importance of this new database, Dr. Nabel said, “[t]hrough Framingham SHARe we hope to unlock genetic mysteries of disease that will open the way to new treatments to improve the health of future generations.”

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NHLBI Presents New Strategic Plan for the Next Decade

With the extensive involvement of the communities it serves, the NHLBI recently completed development of a scientific working plan to guide its activities and initiatives in the near future. Shaping the Future of Research: A Strategic Plan for the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute is accessible on the NHLBI Web site at http://apps.nhlbi.nih.gov/strategicplan/.

The plan identifies a number of basic research areas of focus with the intent of delineating normal and pathological biological mechanisms and exploiting the emerging understanding of them to identify biomarkers of disease. Such biomarkers—broadly defined as measurable indicators of genotype, biological or pathological processes, or responses to therapeutic intervention—will facilitate identification of disease subtypes and point the way toward new molecular targets for prevention, diagnosis, and treatment.

The plan’s clinical and translational research goals emphasizes transmission of knowledge between basic and clinical research so that findings in one arena rapidly inform and stimulate research in the other. More precise methods of risk-stratification and diagnosis are expected to arise from application of new approaches (e.g., noninvasive imaging, biomarkers) from basic science laboratories. A critical challenge will be to develop personalized preventive and therapeutic regimens based on genetic makeup in combination with developmental and environmental exposures. Insights are already emerging, but robust and efficient means of validating both individualized and population-based treatments will be needed to establish an evidence base to guide medical practice.

The plan acknowledges the need to enhance understanding of the processes involved in translating research into practice and to use that understanding to enable improvements in public health and stimulate further scientific discovery. It places particular emphasis on conducting research in primary prevention and identifying interventions that work in the practice communities that will ultimately constitute the targets for translation and education. Development and evaluation of new approaches to communicate research advances to the public will remain an important priority.

The plan is intended to provide the NHLBI with a guide for its research and training programs over the next 5 to 10 years. It presents broad strategies that the NHLBI will employ to facilitate the conduct of research; enhance inter- disciplinary work; speed early-stage translation of basic discoveries; ensure cross-fertilization of basic, clinical, and epidemiologic discoveries, and maximize the resultant public health benefit of the information created. Specific measures to implement the plan will now be developed in consultation with the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Advisory Council (NHLBAC) and the scientific community. Investigator-initiated research has long constituted the largest share of the NHLBI research portfolio, and we fully expect that much of the plan will be realized through the Institute’s continued support for it. Institute-initiated investments guided by the plan will be directed largely toward programs that either enable or complement investigator-initiated activities.

As the challenges identified in the plan are met and as new ones emerge, the NHLBI will identify and embrace new strategies. The Institute also will continue to look to the NHLBAC and to the larger research community for guidance to ensure that its strategies and goals are updated as needed to reflect the rapidly changing environments of research and public health issues.

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Ninth Annual PIO Meeting Scheduled

The ninth Public Interest Organization (PIO) meeting is scheduled to be held on June 9-10, 2008, in Bethesda, MD. The 2008 version of the PIO meeting will feature important health information and the opportunity to network with individuals representing a wide range of public health advocacy groups. The decision to move the meeting to June was made in an effort to alleviate the travel problems that many attendees faced during the two previous meetings due to inclement winter weather. More details, including the exact location and a complete agenda will soon be made available.

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