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NHGRI Launches Social and Behavioral Research Branch

The Social and Behavioral Research Branch (SBRB) will develop cutting-edge approaches to translating the discoveries from the recently completed Human Genome Project into interventions for health promotion and disease prevention, and for counseling patients and families dealing with the impact of devastating genetic disorders.

By Jonathan Tin

The National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) announced the formation of a new branch -- the Social and Behavioral Research Branch (SBRB) -- within its Division of Intramural Research (DIR). The new branch will develop cutting-edge approaches to translating the discoveries from the recently completed Human Genome Project into interventions for health promotion and disease prevention, and for counseling patients and families dealing with the impact of devastating genetic disorders. The SBRB also will investigate the complex social, ethical and public policy impact of genomic research.

To head the new DIR branch, NHGRI set up a search committee, led by APA member Robert Croyle, Director of NCI's Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences. The committee ended up recruiting a prominent behavioral epidemiologist from Duke University, Colleen McBride. As director of the Cancer Prevention, Detection and Control Research Program at Duke, McBride's work focused on developing and evaluating population-based interventions directed at smoking cessation and identifying "teachable moments" for changing behaviors that put people at increased risk for developing disease.

McBride, who received her doctorate in behavioral epidemiology from the University of Minnesota in 1990, also has interests in health behavior change interventions in community and health care settings and in using risk communications to motivate behavioral change. She said she is excited about the challenges and opportunities presented by advances in human genomic discoveries. Starting this new research branch within NHGRI, she said, has involved extensive planning and discussion with experts from around the country.

According to McBride, the SBRB's research portfolio will encompass four conceptual domains:
-- Testing communications strategies aimed at relaying an individual's risk for developing a genetic condition.
-- Developing and evaluating interventions aimed at reducing genetically susceptible individuals' risk of acquiring a disease.
-- Translating genomic discoveries to clinical practice.
-- Understanding the social, ethical and policy implications of genomic research.

In addition to heading the new NHGRI branch, McBride also will spearhead the development of a trans-institute Social & Behavioral Science Center (SBSC) within the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The SBSC will be designed to hasten the progress of behavioral and social science research among participating NIH intramural research programs. A cadre of social and behavioral scientists from various NIH institutes and disciplines - including experimental and clinical psychologists, sociologists, geneticists, public health experts, ethicists, decision scientists, community health professionals, informaticists and health communications specialists -- will be housed together in the new center.

Although many NIH institutes sponsor social and behavioral research through their external, or extramural, grants-making divisions, the SBSC will bring a new focus to this type of research among the intramural research community. The trans-NIH SBRC will house the complete staff of NHGRI's new SBRB as well as investigators and staff from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (OBSSR).

Access information about NHGRI's new SBRB by visiting their website.