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Epidemiology Resources at the National Institutes of Health (NIH)

Posted By D. Rebecca Prevots, Tuesday, December 22, 2015
Updated: Friday, December 18, 2015

Editor’s note: CSTE Executive Board Secretary-Treasurer and Hawaii State Epidemiologist, Sarah Park, recently met up with D. Rebecca Prevots, Ph.D., Chief of the Epidemiology Unit of the Laboratory of Clinical Infectious Diseases, Division of Intramural Research at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) at NIH. Sarah recommended that Rebecca write this blog for CSTE describing the epidemiology research and support at NIH and how she might help CSTE members with applied epi questions not addressed by other federal partners.

I will give an overview of epidemiology and epidemiologic capacity at NIH based on my experience here. Since I spent 12 years at CDC and now 12 years at NIH, I do have some perspective into how epi fits into these different cultures (the more academic and the more applied public health). NIH is a very big place, with the 27 different institutes and centers comprising the National Institutes of Health (note the “s”). Most institutes have extra- and intramural groups, with the extramural groups funding research outside of NIH and the intramural groups conducting research on the NIH campus. Approximately 90% of the NIH budget goes to extramural research, usually in the form of grants to academic institutions, and the remainder is for intramural research.

In addition to the intra\extramural distinction, each institute or center varies in its mission, structure, and function, and therefore it is difficult to provide one picture of epidemiology across NIH. Most large institutes (NCI, NIAID, NIEHS, NHLBI, and NICHD) have intra- and extramural epidemiology groups. The descriptions of the various epidemiology groups can be found on the NIH webpage under their respective institutes. The epidemiology groups in each institute will have expertise related to their specific areas of study. The main mission of the NIH is biomedical research in support of human health, which the epidemiology units complement in a variety of ways that include:

  1. design and analysis of NIH clinical studies,
  2. involvement in design and analysis of field studies, and
  3. analysis of large datasets to look at population patterns

The nature of the ongoing research varies widely, but intramural epi researchers at those institutes typically do original research, usually in populations outside of NIH. The overarching mission of intramural epi groups is to add value to the mission by focusing on rare diseases or high-risk research that otherwise wouldn’t get funded extramurally.

I can speak to what I know best: in my epi group at NIAID, we seek to lead and support research within the Division of Intramural Research. This includes research on rare lung diseases from nontuberculous mycobacteria and fungi, design and analysis of clinical research data, analysis of population-based data (e.g., datasets from the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services and the Agency for Health Research and Quality), and using approaches such as spatial analysis to better understand risk factors for some conditions. We also provide epidemiologic expertise into international field studies conducted by NIH, such as the intramural-conducted field studies of malaria in Mali.

In summary, there is epi expertise at NIH, and that expertise varies widely across groups. Certainly if there is a topic of interest (such as NTM), there are often experts here who can help. And certainly I would be interested in fostering ties with CSTE!

Dr. Prevots can be reached by email at rprevots@niaid.nih.gov.

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