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National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences


Research Highlights

The vision of the NIEHS is to use environmental health sciences to understand human disease and improve human health. Below are some research highlights from NIEHS scientists since its founding in 1966.

Click on the buttons below to sort by year or title. Click on the tags below each highlight to filter by tag.

August 1, 2012 – NIEHS director introduces the 2012-2017 strategic plan for NIEHS, "Advancing Science Improving Health: A Plan for Environmental Health Research." NIEHS, with the help of its stakeholders, lays out a plan that has descriptive strategic themes and 11 goals that are identified as priority areas for the field. As the NIEHS moves forward, our overall goal is to make the institute, including the National Toxicology Program (NTP), the foremost trusted source of environmental health knowledge, leading the field in innovation and the application of research to solve health problems.

Tags: Toxicity children's health genes lung

On June 10, 2011, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services added eight substances to its Report on Carcinogens, a science-based document that identifies chemicals and biological agents that may put people at increased risk for cancer.

The industrial chemical formaldehyde and a botanical known as aristolochic acids are listed as known human carcinogens. Six other substances - captafol, cobalt-tungsten carbide (in powder or hard metal form), certain inhalable glass wool fibers, o-nitrotoluene, riddelliine, and styrene - are added as substances that are reasonably anticipated to be human carcinogens. With these additions, the 12th Report on Carcinogens now includes 240 listings.

The Report on Carcinogens is a congressionally mandated document that is prepared for the HHS Secretary by the National Toxicology Program. The report identifies agents, substances, mixtures, or exposures in two categories: known to be a human carcinogen and reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.

Tags: National Toxicology Program Report on Carcinogens cancer carcinogens

Testing the safety of chemicals is becoming more efficient and less reliant on animals thanks to a federal collaboration known as Tox 21. Tox 21 brings together scientists from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), NIEHS, the National Toxicology Program (NTP), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and most recently the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to test the safety of chemicals using state-of-the-art robotic technology that will reduce the reliance on animal testing.

The goal of this partnership is to test at the NIH Chemical Genomics Center (NCGC) approximately 10,000 compounds of toxicological concern using quantitative high-throughput screening assays that provide information on the ability of these compounds to affect key cellular pathways associated with the induction and/or progression of human disease.


The agencies signed a five-year memorandum of understanding that builds on the experimental toxicology expertise at the National Toxicology Program headquartered at NIEHS; the high-throughput technology at the NCGC; and the computational toxicology capabilities at the EPA National Center for Computational Toxicology. The agreement provides for sample and information sharing necessary to more rapidly and effectively identify chemicals that might pose risks to the health of humans and animals or to the environment. It identifies opportunities for coordination in four basic areas related to testing goals: identification of toxicity pathways, selection of chemicals for testing, analysis and interpretation of data, and outreach to scientific and regulatory communities.

Tags: National Toxicology Program Report on Carcinogens notable NIEHS program toxicity

An NIEHS-led interagency effort identified 11 key categories of diseases and other health consequences of global climate change. As part of an ad hoc interagency working group on climate change and health, NIEHS teamed up with other government and international researchers to address public health concerns and vulnerability related to climate change. Discussions demonstrated that climate change mitigation strategies, in addition to reducing greenhouse gases, have additional benefits for public health. The group issued its report on Earth Day, April 21, 2010, as a supplement to the NIEHS journal, Environmental Health Perspectives. In 2009, the Institute of Medicine Roundtable on Environmental Health Sciences, Research and Medicine concluded that research on climate change needed to be reframed to emphasize human health impacts and research gaps. As a result, the working group was formed. Researchers following up on the group’s report will develop strategies to promote health and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Mitigation strategies include reducing household energy emissions, reducing motor vehicle use, developing and using low-carbon electricity, and reducing meat consumption.


Also, NIEHS, along with British partners, funded a 2009 series in the journal Lancet that concluded that the savings from improving health would offset the cost of addressing climate change.

Tags: breast cancer genes

Genetic tests are available for the two principal alleles of CYP2C9. Researchers found a null allele of CYP2C9 that decreases metabolism of both warfarin and phenytoin and a second deleterious allele reported in African-Americans on warfarin. Collaborative clinical studies have shown that metabolism of tolbutamide, phenytoin, and warfarin are altered in people with genetic polymorphisms of CYP2C9, affecting dosage requirements and sometimes causing dangerous or fatal bleeding episodes in patients on warfarin as an anticoagulant.


In 2010, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a boxed warning label for Plavix, an anti-blood-clotting medication. The warning informs health-care professionals that genetic tests are available to determine the potential effectiveness of this drug in different individuals.

Tags: genes