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Vol. LXIII, No. 3
February 4, 2011

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NICHD Convenes Experts to Launch Institute Vision Process
NICHD director Dr. Alan Guttmacher

NICHD director Dr. Alan Guttmacher speaks at the first of nine workshops convened to create a scientific vision for the institute.

“Our intent is to identify the most promising scientific opportunities of the next decade across the NICHD’s mission,” said NICHD director Dr. Alan Guttmacher about the first of nine workshops convened to create a scientific vision for the institute. “We’re here to set an ambitious agenda that inspires the NICHD, its partners and the research community to achieve critical scientific goals and meet pressing public health needs.”

At the first workshop, about 60 outside experts from numerous disciplines convened to identify research frontiers in plasticity. Formally defined as something malleable that can be molded or shaped, plasticity has a range of meanings for researchers in the life sciences. For some, plasticity refers to an inherent capacity to adapt to changes in the environment, to heal and recover after an injury. Some researchers specifically target the nervous system’s inherent plasticity to help individuals recover from stroke, other injuries to the head or damage to the spinal cord. Other researchers seek to harness the power of plasticity to help people overcome such problems as learning disabilities or to help young people reach their maximum potential across different developmental stages.

Plasticity is the first of nine broad themes that capture the breadth of science within the NICHD mission. Themes for the remaining workshops to be held by the end of March are development, cognition, behavior, reproduction, pregnancy and pregnancy outcomes, developmental origins of health and disease, environment and diagnostics and therapeutics. The result of each workshop will be a white paper from which NICHD will draft a vision statement that builds upon the most promising opportunities identified across the different themes.

A final scientific conference, expected to take place in June, will bring together a diverse group of external and NIH leaders to discuss and refine the vision statement. During each step of the process, the institute will seek advice and invite public comment through its web site. After a review from its advisory council, the institute plans to publish the final document in a research journal. More information is available at

“We’re asking you to chart where the research community and the NICHD should be headed over the next 10 years,” Gutt-macher told workshop participants. “What will the future look like in key scientific areas? What should we know and what should we be able to do a decade from now that will allow us to address critical unmet knowledge gaps and health needs?”

Guttmacher asked participants to consider which basic, clinical and translational research questions must be answered, what novel research methods and approaches may need to be developed or what unique training and workforce development activities should be pursued to reach the goals.

Once the vision statement is complete, NICHD staff will use it to help guide its work, he said.

In his final remark to the panel, Guttmacher quoted a statement attributed to Chicago architect Daniel Burnham: “‘Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir [people’s] blood and probably will themselves not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will not die.’” NIHRecord Icon

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