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To understand the wide range of NIH-supported projects and programs in prevention, one can think about the overall research process as advancing through several phases of discovery, from basic to applied research, for the purpose of advancing the application of knowledge. Strategic planning for prevention research conducted or supported by the NIH progresses through the same fundamental continuum (see figure): 1) hypothesis development, 2) methods development, 3) controlled intervention trials, 4) defined population studies, and 5) implementation projects. It is important to note that this depiction of the research continuum is a simplified generalization, and individual NIH Institutes and Centers may customize the prevention research process to best reflect their missions and the state of knowledge in their programs.

At each phase of the continuum, new data are obtained that inform the research to be conducted by scientists at the next phase of study. In addition, knowledge gained at each phase leads to refinements in questions being addressed in earlier phases. Along the entire continuum, the NIH devotes resources to educate and train the next generation of 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 on scientific advances and ways to improve health is also a critical part of the overall research mission. Otherwise, the NIH research mission could not be completely fulfilled.