NHGRI celebrates the10th anniversary of the Social and Behavioral Research Branch
By Raymond MacDougall
Associate Director of Communications, Division of Intramural Research
The confluence of two seemingly unrelated developments sparked a special area of health research - one that combined genomics and social and behavioral research. At the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), its leadership responded by launching the Social and Behavioral Research Branch (SBRB) as a branch of its Division of Intramural Research in December of 2003 - the year the Human Genome Project was completed.
The mission of this new intramural research branch would be to use innovative social and behavioral science methods to consider how emerging genomic advances might be directed to benefit public health and clinical practice. Now celebrating its 10th anniversary, SBRB has spent the past few months reflecting on the place of social science research within NHGRI, which is recognized foremost as a bastion of basic research innovation.
"My Social and Behavioral Research Branch colleagues and I are interested in ways that genomic knowledge can be used to promote health, prevent disease and reduce health inequities," said SBRB Chief Colleen McBride, Ph.D. A behavioral epidemiologist, Dr. McBride has led SBRB since its start. "We in SBRB focus ahead to where genomic discovery is moving and then use innovative study designs and methods to consider how the public and clinicians can make use of these advances in ways that improve health."
SBRB is composed of sections that are akin to those in the NHGRI's basic research branches. Each section or unit is headed by an investigator who envisions studies in focused domains and also mentors a team of trainees who will be the next wave of talent in this compelling research field.
Under Dr. McBride's leadership, SBRB's investigators pursue a broad array of research focused on four research themes:
- Clinical translation: Developing methods for translating genomic information in clinical and public health settings.
- Community translation: Evaluating community-based education approaches in order to improve knowledge of genomic information and to reduce risky health behaviors.
- Health disparities: Evaluating the innovative applications of emerging genomic knowledge in relation to both how they address public health priorities of diverse, underserved populations.
- Methods and measures: Integrating social environment, neuro-behavioral, and genomic data to understand the factors that influence health behaviors and illness.
- SBRB researchers developed a new scale to learn how health professionals use race and genetics in clinical practice. The measurement tool is called the Racial Attributes in Clinical Evaluation (RACE) scale. The goal of the RACE Scale is to study the use of race and genetics in the delivery of clinical care and its importance for addressing disparities in health care delivery in the genomic era.
- SBRB investigators have used another measurement tool, the Psychological Adaptation Scale (PAS), in over 10 studies to assess mechanisms by which study participants adapt to a genetic risk or condition. Using this tool, genetic counselors can introduce clinical interventions to improve adaptation.
- SBRB is home to the NHGRI Immersive Virtual Environment Testing Area (IVETA), a laboratory that features computer simulation as a study technique. In a recent study, SBRB investigators used IVETA to learn how family health history information related to obesity impacts mothers' food choices for their children using a virtual buffet. The researchers found that overweight mothers whose children are at high risk of obesity may need more resources to increase their perception that efforts can be undertaken to reduce risk.
- SBRB investigators have studied communal coping processes in families at risk for genetic diseases by introducing genomic risk information based on family health history into the family system. Their work suggests that health promotion intervention efforts may be enhanced by activating and enriching family relationships.
- SBRB investigators are considering phenotypes of brain development among children with Attention Deficit any Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), a problem with enormous public health impact, and whether the different trajectories have genetic underpinnings.
SBRB events have observed the 10th anniversary throughout the year. The culmination of the anniversary year will be a celebration on January 13, 2014 at the Natcher Conference Center, on NIH's Bethesda, Md., campus. Guest speakers for the anniversary celebration will be Richard Street, Ph.D., professor of communication, Texas A&M University, and director of the Health Communication and Decision-Making Program at Baylor College of Medicine; and Robert Green, M.D., M.P.H., associate professor of genetics, Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School. The speakers will discuss the future of genomic medicine through the lenses of genomics and social and behavioral science.
An afternoon exhibit hall with the theme of Genomics and Society will include posters and interactive exhibits to showcase innovative science of intramural and extramural projects and programs. For more about the SBRB 10th Anniversary celebration, visit http://www.genome.gov/27555812.
For more about SBRB, go to www.genome.gov/11508935