NIDDK Director's Update Summer 2011

Director's Note

In the last few months, the NIH has released strategic plans to combat diabetes and obesity. NIDDK took a leadership role in developing these plans, and has also embarked on the Kidney Research National Dialogue, another plan for targeting the most promising research.

During the strategic planning process, we learn what the scientific and professional communities and the public believe are prime areas of research opportunity, and we evaluate how to build on past advances. Collecting, distilling, and crafting these ideas into a plan takes time and takes strategy itself—but the result is well worth the effort.

Because of the diverse portfolio of diseases in NIDDK’s mission, we create and participate in the development of several plans. However, they all share aspects, like providing training opportunities for emerging scientists, using technology to advance research and building evaluation components into our plans, so we make sure we’re on course to advance the most important health research in the most promising way possible. We use these plans as blueprints rather than mandates—remaining flexible to best harness the potential of future research discoveries.

For example, just as we’ve learned with the Diabetes Prevention Program and are learning with Look AHEAD (Action for Health in Diabetes), behavioral interventions can have lasting, positive effects on health—knowledge we can also apply to obesity research. We’ve also learned that social groups—whom people spend time with—appear to be a predictor of a person’s likelihood of obesity. Now we can confirm and hopefully leverage these findings to consider the role of social ties in approaches to encourage behavior changes that improve health.

In fact, NIH recently issued a funding opportunity announcement to encourage scientists to test the impact of lifestyle interventions in overweight and obese pregnant women on the health of both mother and child, initiatives that build on ideas advanced in the diabetes and obesity plans. These and other efforts help encourage adaptations of evidence-based approaches into effective real-world strategies.

We aim for definitive answers to questions like: Can bariatric surgery cure type 2 diabetes? We also pursue basic research to understand the underlying molecular and genetic pathways of certain diseases, rigorously collecting and tracking progress as we move forward.

Strategic plans work best when they have the wisdom of crowds. When you get a group of diverse thinkers together, they’re often able to come up with a result greater than the sum of its parts. A plan considers actions that should and shouldn’t be taken, both in research and in funding it.

These strategic plans provide us with an opportunity to get diverse and expert input, to look at new scientific opportunities and the technological changes that might enable new research—and then to put these plans into actions that could result in better human health.

Later in this issue of the NIDDK Director’s Update, you can find specifics on the obesity and diabetes strategic plans. I encourage you to read the plans and to consider the contributions you can make to advance public health through research.

In good health,
Dr. Griffin P. Rodgers, M.D., M.A.C.P.
Director, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases