Putting NIH Research on the Map… Literally


Early in his tenure as director of NIH, Francis Collins detailed five major areas of opportunity for NIH research.  One of these areas is an increased focus on global health. An emphasis on global health research is nothing new at NIH; the lead story in the inaugural issue of the NIH Record newsletter in 1949 described NIH’s efforts to combat disease in Africa.

At that time, the focus on global health was driven by the needs of returning WWII veterans suffering from tropical diseases.  But as Dr. Collins noted in a guest blog for Huffington Post, the nature of the global health landscape is changing and we must broaden our vision to include neglected tropical and non-communicable diseases and to recognize that developed nations are not the only source of biomedical research and innovation.   The importance of global health is still at the forefront of NIH activities – in fact, this week, Dr. Collins and several members of NIH’s leadership are speaking at a conference here in DC focused on universities’ efforts to support global health.

Cover of 1949 inaugural issue of the NIH Record newsletter with headline "NIH TO HELP COMBAT DISEASE IN AFRICA"

A 2012 report from the World Health Organization’s Consultative Expert Working Group (CEWG) on Research and Development: Financing and Coordination described global health improvements as “the responsibility of all of us in this interdependent world, in developed and developing countries alike. One recommendation in the report is to facilitate better coordination of global health R&D by creating a global “observatory” to collect and analyze information on the extent and current composition of R&D funding— particularly R&D being undertaken in developing countries.

Creating such an observatory was the intent behind World RePORT, a system developed by my staff in the Office of Extramural Research. We already provide interactive maps of how NIH funds are spent across the United States on RePORT.  World RePORT however shows — on a single map — biomedical research funded by NIH as well as several other major organizations that support biomedical research: the Canadian government (the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the International Development Research Center, and Canadian International Development Agency), the European Commission, INSERM and ANRS in France, the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research, the Medical Research Council of the UK, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency and the Swedish Research Council, and the Wellcome Trust.  You can search abstracts of the funded research by keywords, apply filters to display projects of any or all of the funding organizations, and drill down on the map to get more information on research projects and investigators.  And, of course, the NIH-funded projects are hyperlinked to more complete project information in RePORTER.

Right now, World RePORT is a proof-of-concept with a limited set of features, including a small number of funding organizations, and restricted to research in sub-Saharan Africa.  But we are engaged in discussions with several funding organizations, coordinated by NIH’s Fogarty International Center, to discuss possible expansion to include other regions of the world and other funders of biomedical research.

We invite you to try World RePORT for yourself.

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