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Program Gives Boost to Native American Health

By Susan Athey

The National Institute of General Medical Sciences and the Indian Health Service have announced plans to collaborate on a new program designed to promote, develop and support centers that will link the Native American community with organizations that conduct health research. The program, Native American Research Centers for Health (NARCH), will pursue this goal by encouraging research on diseases and health conditions of importance to American Indians and Alaskan natives.

The NARCH program also seeks to develop a cadre of American Indian biomedical and behavioral scientists and health professionals who are able to compete successfully for NIH funding. Another goal is to increase the capacity of both the research-intensive organizations and the Indian organizations to work in partnership to produce competitive research proposals.

In announcing the collaboration, Dr. Clifton Poodry, director of the NIGMS Division of Minority Opportunities in Research, said, "This is a ground-breaking venture. We will combine the research and training mission of NIGMS with the specific IHS mission to serve the health care needs of the American Indian/Alaskan Native community. Most importantly, we are responding to advice from the community to find ways to include American Indians as researchers, not merely as subjects."

Leo Nolan, assistant to the IHS director, added that the program "will ensure that the American Indian and Alaskan native community will direct and control research on their own behalf. This effort is in direct response to the administration's initiative to actively seek the Indian community's advice and direction on matters that directly affect them."

Leo Nolan, assistant to the director of the Indian Health Service, helped explain the new NARCH program.

The NARCH program is being developed in response to concerns raised at the American Indian Research Training Needs meeting held at NIH in August 1999. The meeting, cosponsored by NIGMS and IHS, brought NIH scientists and health policy makers together with American Indian scientists from around the country to discuss the needs of American Indians with regard to biomedical research training and to develop a plan of action.

The new program, expected to be launched in mid-2000, will provide funds to support faculty-initiated, scientifically meritorious research projects, including pilot research projects, at NARCH organizations. It will also support projects designed to increase the research skills and numbers of Native American science students.

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