The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s Division of Blood Diseases and Resources (DBDR) has reorganized its structure to reflect the research pathway — from laboratory investigations to clinical trials to real-world implementation studies, and back to basic investigations, with the various translational steps in between these areas. Previously, DBDR was organized according to specific disease disciplines within hematology. The new structure (see Table) retains the hematologic disease-specific expertise within the division, but provides increased opportunity to complement this with expertise from other disciplines.
“The division’s reorganization encourages more collaboration than the previous structure,” said DBDR Director Keith Hoots, MD. “Our aim is to expand the reach of hematologic research to more carefully overlap with other scientific disciplines, because this is where the science is headed. By organizing along the research pathway, the division and investigators have a clearer view of the big picture, and we are better able to apply the right expertise to the right area of study at the right time to expedite the translation of discovery into health.”
Dr. Hoots explained that years ago it made sense to divide research primarily by disease categories. “With the limited technologies of the past, the best way to study diseases was to take a very narrow approach, but this put up walls around scientists and information,” he said. “Today, with the advent of powerful, cross-cutting technologies like genomics and proteomics, and a deeper understanding of how various biological functions might interconnect, different fields of study are overlapping substantially. To the extent that there are shared research pathways, there are opportunities for investigators to work in teams, potentially expanding the reach of hematologic experts to disease areas not traditionally examined with the aid of their knowledge and skills.”
DBDR laid the foundation for this change several years ago by demonstrating that there were parts of blood science that overlap not only with the work of other NIH institutes and centers but also with the work of federal agencies like the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), Food and Drug Administration, and Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority. The work with the DOD led to a number of science teams studying, for example, blood-clotting disease in the setting of severe trauma. More recently, the work of the division has expanded to malaria (traditionally the province of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases). DBDR’s malaria work will focus on vascular changes caused by the parasitic infection. Additionally, there are opportunities for future research teams to form around bone marrow transplantation to potentially cure HIV infection, as well as therapies for neurocognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, particularly at the interface of the blood system and the brain, which appears to be affected early in the disease’s progression.
Dr. Hoots noted that DBDR’s new structure fosters collective creativity from idea conception as well as collective ownership and responsibility for the research. He explained that it is a conscious effort to encourage more team science and create incentive for researchers to reach broadly when they think about where the science is going and what needs to be done. This restructuring aligns with the scientific approach of the Institute’s Strategic Visioning process — advancing science and compelling NHLBI to consider new scientific approaches and technologies. The goal of Strategic Visioning is to shape the Institute’s scientific priorities regarding heart, lung, and blood diseases and sleep disorders in an integrated way.
As with the previous structure, researchers with an interest in a particular disease area should approach the division with their ideas (see contact information below). DBDR staff will direct them to the right person within the division with the relevant subject matter expertise. Dr. Hoots emphasized that once a researcher establishes a relationship with a division staff member that relationship can remain even if the individual’s primary research focus changes over time. “This way, the science is supported and the relationship is sustained while others are fostered,” Dr. Hoots said, adding that through the reorganization, researchers will be better prepared to adapt to new scientific opportunities, some of which may fall outside the traditional purview of the division.
Dr. Hoots also emphasized that the reorganization will better support the next generation of scientists. “We don’t want young scientists to think that the direction in which they start is the only direction they can follow for the rest of their careers, or risk losing valuable mentorships that have formed over the years. This approach helps us to help them, even if they decide to go in a direction that takes them outside of blood science, particularly as the division may already be crossing those same barriers.” He added that the restructuring puts an end to the idea of “I can only advise you if you stay in this area of study,” and is more supportive of the scientific process.
Acknowledging that there is more than one way to take team science forward, Dr. Hoots explained that DBDR took the approach of organizing along the research pathway particularly because hematology is a field with many rare diseases that have genetic foundations. A disease-focused organization in the setting of multiple rare diseases would create many silos of information.
Additional information about the division is available at www.nhlbi.nih.gov/about/org/dbdr. Individuals with questions about DBDR’s areas of research, reorganization, and how staff roles and expertise align with the restructuring may contact any of the individuals below:
Molecular Cellular and Systems Blood Science Branch
Yu-Chung Yang, PhD, Branch Chief
firstname.lastname@example.org (link sends e-mail)
Translational Blood Science and Resources Branch
Traci Mondoro, PhD, Branch Chief
email@example.com (link sends e-mail)
Blood Epidemiology and Clinical Therapeutics Branch
Simone Glynn, MD, Branch Chief
firstname.lastname@example.org (link sends e-mail)