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A View from the NIH Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research - page 4 / 14





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The OBSSR’s Strategic Prospectus

The strategic prospectus recently published by OBSSR1 articulates four new programmatic directions, summa- rized below:

  • Next-generation basic science: OBSSR will facilitate the next generation of basic behavioral and social sciences research informed by breakthroughs in complementary areas such as genetics, informatics, computer science, measures, methods, and multi- level analyses.

  • Interdisciplinary research: OBSSR will facilitate col- laborative research across the full range of disci- plines and stakeholders necessary to fully elucidate the complex determinants of health and health- systems challenges. Such collaborations will yield new conceptual frameworks, methods, measures, and technologies that will speed the improvement of population health.

  • Systems science approaches to health: OBSSR will stimulate research that integrates multiple levels of analysis in problem conceptualization and recog- nizes the complex and dynamic relationships among components of the system. These approaches are required to understand the ways in which individual, contextual, and organizational factors interact to determine health status.

  • Population impact: OBSSR will work with its NIH partners to identify key issues in population health toward which scientists, practitioners, and decision makers can work together to accelerate the transla- tion, dissemination, and implementation of the find- ings of BSSR in the service of improved health. This programmatic direction emphasizes a research agenda that is problem-focused and outcomes- oriented. It begins with a complex but clearly de- fined health problem and works backwards from the problem to identify the multiple causal pathways and feedback loops that will lead to development of the most powerful and efficient set of interventions to address the problem. Interdisciplinarity is an explicit, programmatic

theme within the OBSSR strategic prospectus that, in fact, pervades all other themes. A number of other cross-cutting themes also underlie OBSSR’s program- matic directions. These themes include: (1) the elimi- nation of health disparities22; (2) the strengthening of the science of dissemination (the quest for scientific evidence to determine the most effective ways to trans- late findings from basic research and clinical trials performed under ideal conditions to the successful widespread adoption and implementation by all target audiences and in national health policy)27,28; (3) capi- talizing on recent advances in informatics, communica- tions, imaging, sensor technology, and data-visualization techniques that aid data analysis and interpretation29;

and (4) investigating commonality among theories and mechanisms of behavior change and sustained mainte- nance of change. Another goal of OBSSR is to enhance the interdisciplinary training of the current and next generation of behavioral and social scientists.

A critical milestone for enhancing interdisciplinary science and systems science is the rapid deployment of various components of cyber-infrastructure, making connectivity possible from the local to the global scale.29,30 The National Science Foundation’s landmark Atkins report30 enumerates the potential and the criti- cal base technologies underlying cyber-infrastructure, including the integrated electro-optical components of computation, storage, and communication that con- tinue to advance in raw capacity at exponential rates. Above the cyber-infrastructure layer are the software programs, services, instruments, data, information, knowledge, and social practices applicable to specific projects, disciplines, and communities of practice. Be- tween these two layers is the cyber-infrastructure layer of enabling hardware, algorithms, software, communi- cations, institutions, and personnel. This layer should provide an effective and efficient platform for the empowerment of specific communities of researchers to innovate and eventually revolutionize what they do, how they do it, and who participates.

The next section elaborates on the programmatic directions outlined above, and includes specific re- search examples.

Programmatic Direction #1. Next-Generation Basic Science

Basic biomedical, behavioral, and social sciences re- search has produced enormous advances in under- standing the factors that contribute to the risk of disease and to optimal health. Genetic studies in the 20th Century revealed mutations in individual genes responsible for a relatively small number of rare dis- eases, like Duchenne muscular dystrophy, cystic fibro- sis, and sickle cell disease. The sequencing of the human genome and the completion of the HapMap have opened the door to genomewide association stud- ies that will accelerate the identification of genetic contributions to health and disease. Simultaneously, advances in molecular and cellular biology, bioinfor- matics, and imaging are providing a rich, systems- biology view of cellular, organ, and organismal physiol- ogy, all of which will improve understanding of the etiology of disease and the ability to manage it.

At the same time, OBSSR recognizes that behavioral factors and social conditions have profound effects on the development and progression of common chronic diseases, premature disability, and mortality. Humans are both agents of change and affected by the process of change over time. This reciprocal determinism is a dynamic process and is often nonlinear, multi- 31

S214 American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Volume 35, Number 2S


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