Prevention Research Defined

Prevention research is “disease agnostic” and spans all diseases and conditions, populations, and phases of life. It is designed to produce results that are directly applicable to identifying and assessing risks, as well as developing and testing interventions to prevent or reduce harmful exposures, disease onset, or disease progression.

PRCC Definition of Prevention Research

Under the leadership of the ODP, the NIH Prevention Research Coordinating Committee (PRCC) has worked to ensure that a definition of prevention research communicates the breadth and depth of prevention research funded by the NIH while also retaining sufficient specificity to be of practical value. The PRCC Definition of Prevention Research is summarized here:

Prevention research at the NIH encompasses both primary and secondary prevention. Primary prevention includes research designed to promote health; identify risk factors for developing a new health condition (e.g., disease, disorder, injury); and prevent the onset of a new health condition. Secondary prevention includes research designed to identify risk factors for the progression or recurrence of a health condition and detecting and preventing progression of an asymptomatic or early-stage condition.

Prevention research targets biology, individual behavior, factors in the social and physical environments, and health services, and informs and evaluates health-related policies and regulations.

Prevention research includes studies that:

  • Identify and assess risk and protective factors.
  • Screen and identify individuals and groups at risk.
  • Develop and evaluate interventions to reduce risk.
  • Translate, implement, and disseminate effective preventive interventions into practice.
  • Develop methods to support prevention research.

Prevention Research at the NIH

Like all research and regardless of the scientific field or funding IC, NIH-supported disease prevention research spans all the phases of research. This research can include everything from hypothesis development studies that identify and synthesize scientific evidence to generate new research questions and hypotheses to implementation projects that apply an intervention in a community at large and measure the public health impact. 

The data collected in each phase help inform the research conducted in the next phase, and also help scientists refine and improve their research questions. Even though individual ICs may customize the prevention research process to best reflect their needs, the research phases are similar across the NIH.

The ODP devotes resources to educate and train the next generation of disease prevention scientists, with particular attention to the development of individuals from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups. Educating the public and health professionals to inform them about scientific advances and ways to improve health is also a critical part of the NIH research mission.

Phases of Research