NIH: Office of Disease Prevention



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Office of Extramural Research (OER)

The NIH Guide for Grants and Contracts is the official publication for NIH medical and behavioral research grant policies, guidelines, and funding opportunities. Researchers can use this site to search for funding opportunities or sign up for weekly email updates on NIH-supported grants and contracts.

This section provides examples of current research activities at the NIH, and is not intended to be a comprehensive list.

Environmental Health Research at the NIEHS

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS)

The mission of the NIEHS is to discover how the environment affects people in order to promote healthier lives. Some examples of research initiatives at the NIEHS include Endocrine Disruptors, Breast Cancer and the Environment, Exposure Biology, Environmental Epigenetics, Disaster Research Response, Global Environmental Health, Cookstoves and Indoor Air, Climate Change and Human Health, Children's Health, Obesity and Diabetes, and Autism. Each program seeks to understand how environment influences disease progression in order to find new ways to prevent illness and promote health. The NIEHS 2012–2017 Strategic Plan Advancing Science, Improving Health outlines priorities for environmental health research to guide the field and inform the Institute's efforts. Of particular relevance to prevention research, Goal 2 is to “understand individual susceptibility across the life span to chronic, complex diseases resulting from environmental factors, in basic and population-based studies, to facilitate prevention, and decrease public health burden.” NIEHS also supports research training across the spectrum of environmental health topics. Additional information is available on the NIEHS website.

Toxicology in the 21st Century

National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS)
National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS)
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
Food and Drug Administration (FDA)

The Toxicology in the 21st Century (Tox21) program is a federal collaboration between the NIH, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to develop better toxicity assessment methods. The goal is to be able to rapidly and efficiently test whether certain chemical compounds have the potential to cause adverse health effects by disrupting vital processes in the human body. The Tox21 consortium leverages its partners' resources and expertise to predict more effectively how compounds from its collection of 10,000 environmental chemicals and approved drugs affect human health and the environment.

Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO) Program

Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD)
National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS)
National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS)
National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB)
National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS)

Understanding the effects of environmental exposures on child health and development is a priority for the National Institutes of Health. To advance knowledge in this area, NIH has launched a seven-year initiative called the Environmental influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO) program. While the goals of ECHO are consistent with those of the former National Children’s Study, the approach is different. ECHO is designed to capitalize on existing participant populations, and support approaches that can evolve with the science and take advantage of the growing number of clinical research networks and technological advances. ECHO supports multiple, synergistic, longitudinal studies using existing study populations, called cohorts, to investigate environmental exposures—including physical, chemical, biological, social, behavioral, natural, and built environments—on child health and development. The studies focus on four key pediatric outcomes that have a high public health impact: upper and lower airway; obesity; pre-, peri-, and postnatal outcomes; and neurodevelopment.

Climate Change and Human Health

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS)
Fogarty International Center (FIC)

Global climate change is one of the most pressing environmental and public health concerns of the 21st century. It is anticipated to have a major impact on human health due to the associated changes in the environment, such as the direct effect of heat, sea level rise, changes in precipitation that lead to flooding and drought, more powerful hurricanes and storms, deteriorating air quality, and increased exposure to toxic environmental pollutants including persistent organic contaminants, metals, and pesticides. A better understanding of how climate change can directly and indirectly influence human health is critical to the efforts to reduce or prevent illness and death. The NIH has studied this issue and developed a report, A Human Health Perspective on Climate Change (PDF - 5MB), outlining research needs in eleven categories representing the consequences of climate change for human health, including asthma and respiratory disease, cancer, cardiovascular disease and stroke, foodborne diseases and nutrition, human developmental effects, mental health and stress-related disorders, neurological diseases, vector-borne and zoonotic diseases, waterborne diseases, and weather-related morbidity and mortality.

Global Environmental and Occupational Health (GEOHealth)

Fogarty International Center (FIC)
National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS)

The overall objective of the Global Environmental and Occupational Health (GEOHealth) program is to support the development of institutions in the low- or middle-income countries (LMICs) that will serve as regional hubs for collaborative research, data management, training, curriculum and outreach material development, and policy support centered around high-priority local, national, and regional environmental and occupational health threats. Regional hubs are supported by two coordinated, linked awards to (1) a LMIC institution to conduct research, and (2) a U.S. institution to coordinate research training. Together, all supported regional hubs will form the GEOHealth Network, a platform for coordinated environmental and occupational health research and research training activities.

Breast Cancer and the Environment Research

National Cancer Institute (NCI)
National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS)

The Breast Cancer and the Environment Research Program (BCERP), a joint effort funded by NIEHS and NCI, is the next phase of the program that began with the Breast Cancer and the Environment Research Centers in 2003 (2003–2010), and sponsors a network of scientists, clinicians, and breast cancer advocates working on determining how chemical, physical, biological, and social factors in the environment interact with genetic factors to cause breast cancer. The network engages in bench and population research and adopts a developmental approach to integrate time, susceptibility, and exposure to better understand the impact of environmental exposures on the development of the mammary gland through a woman's lifetime that could, eventually, influence breast cancer risk. The program has three parallel efforts: (1) the Puberty Study, an ongoing multisite epidemiologic cohort study with 1000 young girls, which is looking at determinants of pubertal maturation; (2) windows of susceptibility, including laboratory and epidemiological sub-studies addressing windows of environmental influences throughout the lifespan; and (3) a Coordinating Center responsible for managing communications and data collection for the cohort study.

Children's Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research Centers (CEHCs)

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS)

The NIEHS and EPA co-founded the EPA/NIEHS Children's Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research Centers ("Children's Centers") to explore the ways to reduce children's health risks attributable to environmental factors. The long-range goals of the program include understanding how environmental factors affect children's health and promoting translation of basic research findings into intervention and prevention approaches to prevent adverse health outcomes. The program fosters research collaborations among basic, clinical, and behavioral scientists with participation from local communities. Emerging areas of research include the role of environmental factors in child obesity, endocrine disrupting chemicals, and epigenetic (i.e., not caused by changes in DNA sequence) influences of diet, aging, stress, and/or environmental exposures.

Parkinson's Disease and the Environment

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS)
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS)

While scientists do not know the exact cause of Parkinson's disease, most agree that the combination of a person's genes, environment, and the interaction between these two factors play a role in disease onset and progression. By identifying the environmental exposures associated with Parkinson's disease and understanding the biological processes that dictate how the disease develops and progresses, scientists can develop approaches to prevent, diagnose, and treat the disease. NIEHS-funded scientists use new models and approaches to study both the genetic and environmental risk factors of Parkinson's disease. They are investigating how diet, exercise, pesticides, and other environmental factors might increase or decrease a person's risk for developing Parkinson's disease. Researchers are also examining how genetic variation may make some more likely to develop the disease, and how certain genes can mediate a person's response to environmental risk factors. NINDS, the lead NIH Institute for Parkinson's disease research, supports research to better understand disease progression, to identify the molecular and cellular causes of Parkinson's, and to develop therapies that can slow, prevent, or reverse the disease. NINDS and NIEHS have recently collaborated on a large planning effort to evaluate the state of the science and identify the most pressing research questions for Parkinson's disease. Visit the Parkinson's Disease 2014: Advancing Research, Improving Lives page and the Parkinson's Disease: Understanding the Environment and Gene Connection page to learn more. The Parkinson's disease information page offers information on the disease, available treatments, and ongoing research.

Environmental Health Research and Cancer

National Cancer Institute (NCI)

The Division of Cancer Epidemiology & Genetics (DCEG) is NCI's intramural (in-house) research program that conducts population and multidisciplinary research to discover the genetic and environmental determinants of cancer and new approaches to cancer prevention. The DCEG conducts research on a range of exposures and risk factors for cancer, giving priority to emergent issues identified through epidemiologic, clinical, and laboratory observations, as well as to public health concerns. A major field of study includes environmental exposures, including but not limited to ionizing and non-ionizing radiation, air pollution, drinking water contamination, pharmaceutical agents and exogenous hormones, infectious agents (bacteria and viruses), and industrial and occupational exposures. DCEG conducts large clinical studies that examine environmental exposures, such as the Environment and Genes in Lung Cancer Etiology (EAGLE) study – a large population-based case-control study that investigates the genetic and environmental determinants of lung cancer and smoking persistence using an integrative approach that allows combined analysis of genetic, environmental, clinical, and behavioral data. The Epidemiology and Genomics Research Program in the NCI Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences supports extramural research that investigates both genetic and environmental factors that may contribute to the etiology of cancer and/or impact cancer outcomes. Environmental epidemiology seeks to understand how physical, chemical, and biologic, as well as social and economic factors affect human health. Social factors, including where one lives, works, socializes, or buys food, often influence exposure to environmental factors.

Family Life, Activity, Sun, Health, and Eating (FLASHE) Study

National Cancer Institute

The FLASHE study collected data on psychosocial, generational (parent-adolescent), and environmental correlates of cancer-preventive behaviors. The purpose of the study is to help researchers understand lifestyle behaviors that relate to cancer risk. The majority of the survey questions focus on diet and physical activity, with additional survey items about sleep, sun safety, and tobacco use. FLASHE is a cross-sectional, Internet-based study that was conducted between April and October 2014, designed to support individual and dyadic analyses. For example, investigators can explore physical activity behaviors in adolescents using the adolescent physical activity survey. Or they could link data from adolescents and their parents to determine whether there is a relationship between parent and adolescent physical activity. The data resource page provides additional information.

Environmental Health Research at the NICHD

Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD)

The NICHD Division of Intramural Population Health Research (DIPHR) designs and conducts investigator-initiated and collaborative epidemiologic research that focuses on various environmental influences on human reproduction, pregnancy, and child development. This body of research is responsive to the critical and sensitive windows of human reproduction and development, and the unique vulnerabilities of fetuses and children to environmental influences. Broad domains of environmental exposures include: air pollution; diet; persistent and non-persistent chemicals, metals and trace elements; stress; and traffic. Methodologic research seeks to develop methods for the analysis of acute/chronic exposures, mixtures, and thresholds. Examples of recently completed and active research in the intramural program include Air Quality and Reproductive Health—Longitudinal Investigation of Fertility and the Environment (LIFE) Study and the Air Quality and Reproductive Health—Consortium on Safe Labor, Consecutive Pregnancy Study. These two studies assess environmental influences on fertility and pregnancy/labor. The Endometriosis: Natural History, Diagnosis, and Outcomes (ENDO) Study, as well as the LIFE Study, assesses chemicals and lifestyle in relation to human fecundity and fertility. The BioCycle Study assesses diet, stress, metals, phenols, and parabens in relation to reproductive hormones and ovulation. The NICHD Fetal Growth Studies assess the effects of chemicals during pregnancy and fetal growth. The extramural program also supports environmental research. In particular, the Population Dynamics Branch (PDB) supports research and training in demography, reproductive health, and population health. Examples of environmental health research supported by this branch include population-level studies of gene-environment interactions (Biopsychosocial Program); dynamic influences of the social, economic, political, institutional, cultural, and physical environments over the life course (The Life Course Health Program); and environmental influences on HIV/STD risk (The Sexually Transmitted Diseases and HIV/AIDS Program).

Children's Health Exposure Analysis Resource (CHEAR)

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS)

Children's health and well-being are influenced by interactions between environmental and genetic factors. NIEHS is establishing an infrastructure, the Children's Health Exposure Analysis Resource (CHEAR), to provide the extramural research community with access to laboratory and data analyses to add or expand the inclusion of environmental exposures in their children's health research. The goal of CHEAR is to provide the tools for researchers to assess the full array of environmental exposures that may affect children's health. CHEAR can be used by children's health researchers conducting epidemiological or clinical studies that currently have very limited consideration of environment, or those who have collected exposure data but seek more extensive analyses.

Environmental Factors in Drug Abuse

National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)

Many environmental factors contribute to drug abuse vulnerability, response, course, and outcomes. The NIDA promotes developmental, genetic, epidemiology, services, and prevention research related to drug abuse. Research and training programs address relationships among drug use, social/physical environment factors, and comorbid mental disorders with emphasis on neurodevelopmental, cognitive, and behavioral mechanisms, and cover the full developmental time course from prenatal through adulthood. Areas of emphasis include development of new theoretical approaches to developmental, epidemiology, services, and prevention research; interaction of intrapersonal and environmental factors with each other and with genetic factors; and strategies to ensure optimal utilization of evidence-based practices. Examples of environmental health-relevant studies supported by NIDA include gene-environment-development interactions in drug vulnerability and comorbid mental disorders, environmental influences on neurobehavioral development, and social-environmental influences on prevention. Additional information is available on the NIDA website.

Asthma and the Environment

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)

Asthma can be triggered by environmental exposures such as allergens (e.g., dust mites, pets, cockroaches, molds); tobacco smoke; and outdoor and indoor air pollution. Respiratory viral infections are also major triggers of asthma attacks. The pathogenesis, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of asthma are major areas of emphasis for NIAID research programs. Over the past two decades, NIAID has supported research programs developing asthma interventions tailored to children living in inner-city areas. The Inner-city Asthma Consortium (ICAC) includes a nationwide network of clinical researchers and basic scientists who conduct clinical trials to evaluate the safety and efficacy of promising, immune-based therapies designed to reduce asthma severity and prevent disease onset in inner-city children. ICAC augments its clinical trials research with basic and preclinical studies assessing how the above environmental exposures, as well as genetic and epigenetic (i.e., not related to changes in DNA sequence) factors influence disease development, progression, and severity. ICAC is also examining the role of the environmental and respiratory microbiome in the development of asthma.

Environmental Effects in Dental, Oral, and Craniofacial Development

National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR)

The Translational Genomics Research Branch’s Translational Genetics and Genomics Program supports research designed to identify the genetic and molecular mechanisms underlying oral health problems and craniofacial disorders. Craniofacial abnormalities may result from spontaneous or inherited genetic mutations. Often, the etiology is complex, involving environmental factors and gene-gene and gene-environment interactions. Oral health problems often result from the complex interplay of genetic and environmental factors as well. This program supports research focusing on genetics and on the interplay of genetic and environmental factors with the goal of improving the understanding of genetic and molecular mechanisms underlying craniofacial disorders and oral health problems. The branch’s new program on Mechanisms of Environmental Effects in Dental, Oral, and Craniofacial Development and Birth Defects encourages research into the biologic mechanisms through which environmental exposures and nutritional deficiencies affect dental, oral, and craniofacial development and cause associated birth defects, including investigations into the mechanisms behind gene-environment interactions.

Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis and Air Pollution (MESA Air) Study

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI)
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

The Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA), sponsored by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, is a research study involving more than 6,000 men and women from six communities in the United States. The study began in 1999 and investigates the early stages of atherosclerosis. MESA participants are from diverse race and ethnic groups, including African Americans, Latinos, Asians, and Caucasians. In 2004, the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis and Air Pollution (MESA Air) was initiated to examine the relationship between air pollution exposures and the progression of cardiovascular disease over time. This 10-year study was funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The main aim is to understand and reduce uncertainty in health effect estimation regarding long-term exposure to air pollution and CVD. MESA Air is built upon the MESA cohort with additional participants, outcome measurements, and state-of-the-art air pollution exposure assessments of fine particulate matter, oxides of nitrogen, and black carbon. More than 7,000 participants aged 45–84 were followed over 10 years for the identification and characterization of CVD events, cardiac procedures, and mortality.