The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has funded a new research
initiative, the Interdisciplinary Research Consortia, designed to bring
together top scientists from different disciplines to speed up
bench-to-bedside progress and create solutions to complex biomedical problems
that are "resistant to traditional research approaches." NIH
announced the initiative in September.
The consortia are funded by the NIH Roadmap for Medical Research, which
supports innovative programs designed to make research more efficient and
productive. The interdisciplinary approach attempts to integrate the knowledge
and research methods in diverse areas such as basic biological sciences,
genomics, proteomics, bioinformatics, biostatistics, chemistry, stem-cell
biology, mechanical and tissue engineering, neurology, behavioral research,
and social sciences. Through this initiative, NIH hopes to "dissolve
departmental boundaries" between its institutes and centers and"
change the NIH approach to interdisciplinary research
administration," according to the announcement.
The following nine interdisciplinary research consortia will receive a
total of $210 million of funding over the next five years:
These consortia will investigate both the basic science and the social and
behavioral components in complex problems such as preserving the fertility of
women with cancer, engineering new tissue and organs, rapid discovery and
design of new drugs, and attacking obesity from many medical and psychosocial
fronts. Psychiatric, neurologic, and behavioral research will be heavily
represented in these programs, as will genetic research.
The Consortium for Neuropsychiatric Phenomics—Coordinating Center,
for example, led by Robert Bilder, Ph.D., a neuropsychologist and professor in
the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of
California at Los Angeles School of Medicine, plans to "break down
artificial boundaries between psychiatric syndromes by studying important
brain-relevant phenotypes across different diagnoses, and by combining basic
and clinical sciences within the same projects," according to the
consortium's statement on its Web site.
"From genome to syndrome" is the key concept of a new
discipline called phenomics, which requires close collaboration among
clinicians, basic-research scientists, and informatics scientists who use
computers to make sense of massive amounts of genetic data.
The Neurotherapeutics Research Consortium will conduct animal and human
studies to identify neuroprotective agents that will prevent or treat
psychiatric complications (such as depression, anxiety, psychosis, cognitive
deficits) in fragile X-associated tremor/ataxia syndrome (a genetic
neurological disease with similarities to Alzheimer's and Parkinson's
disease), according to James Bourgeois, O.D., M.D., co-principal investigator
of the consortium and a professor of psychosomatic medicine in the Department
of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of California at
Davis. He told Psychiatric News that this research will have broad
implications for developing treatments for other types of dementia and
neurological or genetic disorders with psychiatric features.
The Interdisciplinary Research Consortium on Stress, Self-Control, and
Addiction will investigate the "three-way interplay between stress,
self-control, and addiction," including the links between stress and
various mental disorders. The consortium plans to integrate biological,
behavioral, and social-science research to identify the mechanism of
stress-related addictive behavior and the mechanism of self-control. The goal
is eventually to spur the development of social, behavioral, and
pharmacological strategies to increase self-control.
The interdisciplinary research programs included in the Roadmap for Medical
Research share a common goal— "to help transform the way research
is conducted.. .and enable change in academic research culture," said
NIH Director Elias Zerhouni, M.D.