NIEHS Partners Meet on NIH Campus
The NIEHS Partners is a group of education and advocacy organizations concerned with disease, disability and the environment. Together, the members provide a grassroots perspective on the NIEHS research agenda and serve as a key contributor to the translation of research findings for the public, policymakers and private foundations. The group held its annual meeting recently on the NIH campus, fostering a fruitful two-way exchange of information among members and NIEHS leadership and staff.
Representing interests as diverse as asthma, breast cancer, wildlife, children and health professionals, members of the group share a common concern with environmental health. In monthly conference calls, an institute scientist or staff member discusses research in areas such as mercury and fish, nanotechnology, exposure biology as well as other NIEHS activities.
Annual meetings with Dr. Linda Birnbaum, director of NIEHS and the National Toxicology Program, are informal by design. “These meetings are wide open—there’s no script, so everyone can share their concerns,” said John Schelp, NIEHS special assistant for community engagement and outreach. “Anything can and does come up, in a real back-and-forth conversation.”
Partners co-chair Karen Miller, who represents the Huntington Breast Cancer Action Coalition, reflected on the significance of the event. “The NIEHS Partners came prepared to share a diverse range of health concerns our communities face,” she said. “And once again we witnessed through our discussions common threads of toxic environmental exposures and the onset of disease.”
Birnbaum’s penchant for listening to concerns and responding with specific information from relevant research was remarked upon by Dr. Tony DeLucia from Tennessee State University and former head of the American Lung Association. “She riffed like a jazz musician,” he said. The discussion eventually turned toward the developmental origins of disease. “I am convinced that our focus needs to be on early exposure,” Birnbaum said, striking a chord that resonated for all the groups represented.
For Birnbaum’s part, the NIEHS Partners provide a solid grounding in the concerns of a broad range of groups. “I appreciate the opportunity to hear from these different groups from all around the country,” she said.
Staff of the Bethesda office of NIEHS also participated, presenting an overview of their roles on various White House and other governmental committees. Topics they addressed included toxicology, disaster response research and health impacts of climate change.