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Environmental Factor – January 20, 2022: Climate Change spurs big new plan in health research

Environmental Factor – January 20, 2022: Climate Change spurs big new plan in health research

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NIEHS, based on its decades of research to advance scientific knowledge about the effects of climate change on human health, is leading a federal collaboration to significantly scale up research and action in this crucial area.

The NIH Climate Change and Health Initiative (CCH), was created by seven National Institutes of Health (NIH), centers and institutes (ICs). The concept was presented to and approved by the special open session. National Advisory Environmental Health Sciences Council(NAEHSC), Nov. 29.

globeThe new initiative aims to reduce climate-related health risks across the lifespan as well as to increase resilience in individuals, communities and nations around the globe, particularly those most at risk. (Photo courtesy Shutterstock.com/MoreVector.com)

“Although NIEHS has been one of the lead ICs on climate change and health, it is clear that climate change greatly elevates threats to human health across a wide range of illnesses and injuries that are being studied throughout NIH,” said NIEHS and National Toxicology Program Director Rick Woychik, Ph.D. “This is bigger than what NIEHS or any single IC can do.”

Initiatives are shaped by the presidential order

President Joe Biden established the Office of Climate Change and Health Equity2021 (see Sidebar) and issued Executive Order 14008A government-wide approach to climate crisis based upon an environmental justice framework.

“Since the inauguration last January, there has been an increasing focus on climate change across the federal government,” said Woychik.

Roy WoychikWoychik, who spoke at a NIH Rural Health Seminar last November, pointed out that Climate change has a significant impact on rural areas, causing extreme heat, drought, and fires. (Photo courtesy Steve McCaw/NIEHS)

He said that the President requested $100 Million for the new initiative. The matter is still awaiting Congressional approval.

These are the objectives of the research plan.

  • Identify and maximize the benefits to the health and well-being of individuals, communities, or populations through actions to adapt or mitigate climate change.
  • Establish the research infrastructure and workforce necessary to generate timely and relevant knowledge based on all biomedical disciplines.
  • To achieve the best results, partner with other scientific and/or social disciplines and organizations.
  • Innovate across all stages of the research translation continuum in order to ensure that findings are credible, actionable, and accessible for achieving these goals.

From across the NIH

Woychik and six other IC directors serve on the CCH Initiative’s Executive Committee.

“Most notably, the Executive Committee has re-energized a longstanding working group with more than 120 members from 18 ICs and four offices across NIH,” said Woychik.

The Climate Change and Health Working Group was co-chaired and led by NIEHS Senior Medical Advisor. Aubrey Miller, M.D., and FIC Senior Scientist Joshua Rosenthal Ph.D.NIEHS Acting Vice Director Gwen Collman (Ph.D.)As a strategic advisor,

Claudia ThompsonThompson stated that climate equity, environmental justice and domestic and international partnership will all be part the research, education and outreach activities of CCH Initiative. (Photo courtesy Steve McCaw/NIEHS)

Anthony Fauci, M.D.Woychik noted that Fauci, the director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, supports an NIH-wide approach for climate change and health research. Fauci has appointed a member of his senior staff to represent NIAID on the working group’s steering committee.

Exposures, socioeconomic and mental health issues

Claudia Thompson, Ph.D.Council members were provided with an overview by Chief of the NIEHS Population Health Branch.

“Climate change is putting our planet and all its inhabitants at risk,” she said, noting that those most vulnerable are from under-resourced and marginalized populations. “The complexity of climate change impacts on health is enormous, and it is mediated by interrelated environmental exposures and social and behavioral factors.”

Gordon, NIMH director said the same as Thompson, adding that climate changes also have an impact on mental health.

“We know about the mental health impacts of migrations, disasters, and economic stresses, but it is important that we do the research necessary to understand which communities are going to be most affected and develop interventions that can help mitigate these effects,” he said. “We are pleased that we have the opportunity to help build a program in this area.”

Partnerships and communication

Partnerships with institutions that serve minorities and are located in areas of particularly high climate risk should be prioritized in the CCH Initiative’s request for research proposals, suggested council member Lynn Goldman, M.D.George Washington University.

Communication will also be important, according to Carmen Zorrilla, M.D., University of Puerto Rico School of Medicine

“We are living in a world that has a lot of communication and miscommunication,” Zorrilla said. “Messages regarding climate change have been positive and negative, true and false. This initiative needs to pay attention to those messages to make sure that we have strategies to deal with misinformation.”

Transdisciplinary transformative research includes health effects research, health equity, training & capacity building and intervention science, global, cross-sector, interagency, & community partnerships and systems science, adaptive research, basic and mechanistic research, behaviorial and social sciences research, data integration, disaster research response, dissemination and implementation science, epidemiology and predictive modeling and exposure and risk assessment.

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Thompson noted that the new initiative will require collaboration from a variety of scientific disciplines as well as social sectors. (Image courtesy NIEHS

CCH Initiative moves forward

“Implementation of the Climate Change and Health Initiative will require experts from a wide breadth of fields,” Thompson said. “The use of current infrastructure will enable us to create a sustainable research portfolio. This is just the beginning of a long-sustained climate change and health program for the NIH.”

The first step is to implement a research agenda by expanding funding across the NIH ecosystem and broadly advertising the initiative’s notices of special interest, called NOSIs.

“I think there’s probably no other issue that could be as global as climate change,” concluded Glass, FIC Director. “It affects absolutely everyone, everywhere.”

You can email questions or comments regarding the NIH-wide CCH Initiative. national.advisory.council@niehs.nih.gov.

(Jennifer Harker Ph.D. is a technical writer/editor in NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison.


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