Research Spectrum

Since 1948, research funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) has led to life-saving interventions to prevent and treat heart, lung, blood, and sleep (HLBS) disorders. NHLBI’s strategic goals cut across its research portfolio and are rooted in a desire to understand and promote health, stimulate discoveries in the causes of disease, enable the translation of discoveries from basic research into clinical practice, and foster the training of scientists and physicians.


The NHLBI will continue its strong tradition of supporting the full spectrum of research across the clinical translational continuum—basic and pre-clinical; clinical and population science; dissemination and implementation science—to better understand HLBS biology and to prevent and treat HLBS disorders.

The research spectrum.
The Research Spectrum. The NHLBI supports basic and pre-clinical research on normal biology and disease processes, clinical and population research that involves people, and implementation research that improves health through the delivery of effective interventions. 


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Basic and Pre-Clinical Research

Basic and pre-clinical research can help us better define normal biology and health, understand the earliest origin of disease processes, and lead to new strategies to prevent or treat heart, lung, blood, and sleep disorders. Basic research—also called discovery science or bench research—seeks to understand the mechanisms of biology, disease, or behavior. Many medical advances exist because of basic research discoveries that were later applied to human health, sometimes in unexpected ways. Basic research is essential for understanding the inner workings of our bodies, organs, tissues, and cells.

Pre-clinical research connects basic research with clinical research. Pre-clinical testing may include cell or animal models of disease; human or animal samples; or computer-assisted simulations of drugs or devices.

Clinical and Population Science Research

Clinical and Population Science Research covers all research that involves people. Clinical trials are part of clinical research and help find new ways to prevent, detect, or treat diseases that are safe and effective. Clinical trials may enroll healthy volunteers , patient volunteers , or both.

The NHLBI has an important legacy of conducting and funding clinical trials that have shaped medical practice and have helped improve the lives of those who have sickle cell disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart and vascular diseases, and other disorders. The NHLBI has partnered with stakeholders—including researchers, patients, and healthcare professionals—to optimize its clinical trials enterprise. As part of this effort, the Institute has developed a new milestone-based system for funding clinical trials that will help lead investigators to more interpretable, timely, and useful results, which in turn will improve public health.

Population science research is a type of clinical research that studies the incidence , prevalence , patterns, causes, and effects of health and disease in specific groups of people. The NHLBI’s Population and Epidemiology Studies have led to a wide range of discoveries about patterns, trends, and outcomes related to HLBS disorders.

Dissemination and Implementation Research 

Dissemination and implementation research studies strategies to increase awareness and uptake of evidence-based interventions, and to optimally, equitably, and sustainably deliver evidence-based interventions in healthcare settings, work sites, and communities. This includes integrating, scaling up, and sustaining proven-effective interventions, as well as identifying strategies for ending the use of low-value, unproven or outdated clinical practices.

Translational Research 

Translational research focuses on enabling and speeding the progress of scientific discovery across the entire research spectrum, moving discoveries from basic and pre-clinical research to clinical studies to clinical and community settings. 


  • For more than 70 years, the NHLBI has supported discovery science across the research spectrum that has helped people live healthier lives.
  • The NHLBI’s research investments across the spectrum have contributed to a 71 percent decrease in death rates due to heart and vascular diseases.
  • NHLBI’s Cure Sickle Cell Initiative is a patient-focused research effort to develop genetic therapies for use in clinical research within five to 10 years.
  • The Trans-Omics for Precision Medicine program has sequenced over 130,000 genomes to advance understanding of HLBS disorders.
  • The NHLBI-sponsored Women’s Health Initiative found that hormone replacement therapy does not protect older postmenopausal women from cardiovascular disease.
  • The NHLBI, with input from federal and nonfederal partners, developed a COPD National Action Plan to guide efforts to reduce the burden of COPD.


In 2016, the NHLBI released its Strategic Vision, which will guide the Institute’s research activities for the coming decade. Many of the objectives, compelling questions, and critical challenges identified in the plan relate to basic and pre-clinical, clinical and population science, translational, and implementation research. Training the next generation of scientists who will perform the full spectrum of heart, lung, blood, and sleep disorders research is also a high priority for the NHLBI. We offer training and career development opportunities at a range of career stages.

Advancing the Research

We Perform Research

The NHLBI’s Division of Intramural Research conducts basic, pre-clinical, and clinical and population science research to better understand normal biology and disease mechanisms of heart, lung, blood, and sleep disorders. To recognize and foster scientific discovery and teamwork among NHLBI researchers, the Institute established the Orloff Science Awards, named in honor of Dr. Jack Orloff, NHLBI scientific director from 1974 to 1988.

We Fund Research

The research we fund today will help improve our future health. Our Division of Blood Diseases and Resources, Division of Cardiovascular Sciences, and Division of Lung Diseases support basic, clinical, and translational research to prevent and treat heart, lung, blood, and sleep disorders. The NHLBI’s Center for Translation Research and Implementation Science (CTRIS) plans, fosters, and supports late-stage translational research, dissemination and implementation research in the United States and abroad.

The Promise of Precision Medicine

Through NHLBI’s Trans-Omics for Precision Medicine (TOPMed) program, researchers will use data from studies focused on heart, lung, blood and sleep disorders to better predict, prevent, diagnose, and treat diseases based on a patient’s unique genes, environment, and molecular signatures. Learn more about NHLBI precision medicine activities.

Empowering Data Science for Scientific Discovery

The NHLBI BioData Catalyst is a cloud-based platform that will offer cohort and phenotype searches, as well as secure workspaces that share, store, cross-link, and compute on large datasets. The goal is to enable novel scientific research by enhancing access to data from NHLBI-affiliated studies on a unique platform—one that builds on the cloud-based infrastructure of the NIH Data Commons.

Advancing Regenerative Medicine

The NHLBI has taken a lead role in managing the Regenerative Medicine Innovation Project (RMIP), which was established by the 21st Century Cures Act. The Act authorized NIH, in coordination with the FDA, to invest $30 million over four years. The first projects funded through the RMIP focus on understanding and treating a wide range of common and rare diseases through regenerative medicine approaches, such as stem cells or gene editing to repair damaged cells, tissues, or organs.

Accelerating Cures for All Patients Who Have Sickle Cell Disease

The Cure Sickle Cell Initiative is a NHLBI-led collaborative research effort to develop genetic therapies for patients who have sickle cell disease. The goal is to have these genetic therapies ready to use safely in clinical research within five to 10 years. The Initiative is patient-focused, and it will bring together researchers, industry, patients, providers, advocacy groups, and others as it supports research, education, and community engagement activities.

Leading Women’s Health Research

The Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) is a long-term study focusing on strategies to prevent the major causes of death and disability among postmenopausal women. Although the original WHI study completed data collection in 2005, the WHI continues to advance women’s health through extension studies and ancillary studies, such as the Women’s Health Initiative Strong and Healthy Study (WHISH) and the Women’s Health Initiative Sleep Hypoxia Effects on Resilience (WHISPER).

Increasing and Sustaining Research to Reduce the Burden of COPD

The NHLBI, with input from federal and nonfederal partners, developed a COPD National Action Plan to guide stakeholders nationwide in their efforts to reduce the burden of COPD. The NHLBI’s COPD Learn More Breathe Better program seeks to increase the awareness and understanding of COPD and encourage people at risk to be tested.

Supporting Coordinated Community Interventions

The NHLBI’s DECIPHeR (Disparities Elimination through Coordinated Interventions to Prevent and Control Heart Disease Risk) initiative includes studies that explore multilevel strategies for delivering evidence-based interventions to prevent heart disease and asthma. These optimal, sustainable strategies will consider the needs, resources, and sociocultural norms of diverse communities across the United States.

Collaborating to Improve Asthma Awareness

The National Asthma Education and Prevention Program (NAEPP), comprised of medical associations, federal agencies, voluntary health organizations, and community programs, seeks to help educate and provide tools to patients, healthcare professionals, and the public about asthma. The NAEPP Coordinating Committee established an Expert Panel 4 (EPR-4) Working Group in 2018 to update the 2007 guidelines.

Coordinating Efforts to Address the Nation’s Health Challenges

For more than 25 years, NHLBI’s National Center on Sleep Disorders Research (NCSDR) has supported and coordinated sleep science and disorders research, training, and awareness across NIH, other federal agencies and outside organizations. The center also participates in the translation of new sleep research findings for dissemination to healthcare professionals and the public.

Optimizing Clinical Trials Across Phases

Through the years the NHLBI has supported clinical trials that have shaped medical practice and improved the health of people who have heart, lung, blood, and sleep disorders. To maximize the benefits from clinical research, the NHLBI has developed different ways to optimize our clinical trials enterprise and fund the clinical trial phases, including planning and pilot studies.

Providing Access to NHLBI Biologic Specimens and Data

The Biologic Specimen and Data Repository Information Coordinating Center (BioLINCC) centralizes and integrates biospecimens and clinical data that were once stored in separate repositories. Researchers can find and request available resources on BioLINCC’s secure website, which maximizes the value of these resources and advances heart, lung, blood, and sleep research.

Facilitating Alliances to Translate Discoveries into Products

The NHLBI Innovation and Commercialization Office (I&C) helps accelerate the translation of new extramural discoveries into innovative biomedical products to prevent, diagnose, and treat heart, lung, blood, and sleep disorders. I&C coordinates the NHLBI Small Business Program (SBIR/STTR activities), provides pre-application advice, offers product development support services during funding periods, and helps expand researchers’ networks to support further technology development.

Supporting Investigators Transforming Discoveries into Products

The Catalyze program provides a comprehensive suite of support and services to facilitate the translation of basic scientific discoveries into viable therapeutics, devices, and diagnostics ready for human testing.

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