The following HTML text is provided to enhance online
readability. Many aspects of typography translate only awkwardly to HTML.
Please use the page image
as the authoritative form to ensure accuracy.
Advancing the Nation’s Health Needs
proaches from fields such as linguistics and anthropology. Soon cognitive science moved in another direction and attempted to explain behavior with neural networks, reaching out to another emerging field, neuroscience. Among other outcomes, this juxtaposition led to language models couched in neural terms. Neural net models in turn led to general algorithms for machine learning and machine classification, combining the emerging field with newly emerging trends in statistics, computer science, information science, and informatics. Applications of this synergy are now found everywhere in society.
Another good example, overlapping with the previous one, concerns the emerging fields of cognitive neuroscience and behavioral neuroscience, which represent a blend of neuroscience, functional anatomy, psychology, and physiology. These developments occurred hand in hand with the emergence of new brain imaging techniques such as positron emission spectroscopy and functional magnetic resonance imaging. The result has been an enormous growth in the understanding of mental illness and cognitive abnormalities.
When new theory building is pertinent at the intersections among disciplines, coupled with long-term programmatic changes such as those that characterize the linkages between the health and social sciences, some observers have argued for the recognition of a notion called transdisciplinary research,2 contrasting it with interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary research. The notion is to provide a systematic, comprehensive framework for the definition and analysis of social, economic, political, environmental, and institutional factors that influence human health and well-being. The implications are challenging for training a new generation of individuals with a broad, integrative view of the health and social sciences.
Many major health problems faced by society are extremely complex and inherently require research from many areas of science. Examples include obesity, drug abuse, smoking, alcohol abuse, and even violent behavior. In these and other cases, inter-, multi-, and transdisciplinary research is a necessity rather than an option. It is to be noted in this regard that training in the behavioral and social sciences is only one component, but nonetheless an essential component, of the training required to deal with these health issues. At present such training largely resides in the National Institute of Mental Health. This policy places many obstacles in the way of the interdisciplinary research training that the committee regards as an essential part of the research package required for such health problems. Therefore a specific recommendation that much larger efforts be made to integrate research training in the behavioral and social sciences with research training in other fields in all the relevant institutes of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has been included.
As a result of the advancing edges of research, new fields are constantly emerging. Some come and go, whereas others develop into new, well-recognized entities. Some recent examples, in addition to those previously mentioned, are cited below.
Probably the best-recognized examples are the fields of genomics and proteomics. Both are an outgrowth of the vast number of genome sequences becoming available. Genomics is usually considered the study of DNA itself, whereas proteomics is broadly construed to represent the study of proteins expressed by genes. In both cases, regulation of genetic processes is an important factor. Work in these fields, as noted previously, requires quantitative skills in mathematics and computer sciences, along with a thorough knowledge of the associated biology.
Nanotechnology, including nanomedicine, is a closely coupled wave of the future. Already nanodevices such as DNA/RNA chips have been used to make important advances in basic research and diagnostics.
The study of biological molecules has reached the stage where single molecules can be visualized. The new techniques include fluorescence correlation spectroscopy, single-molecule fluorescence microscopy, and cryo-electron microscopy. Recent advances in nuclear magnetic resonance and X-ray crystallography have bolstered the level of information that can be obtained. This area of research will permit a new level of understanding to be reached with regard to the function and mechanism of action of biological molecules.
Impressive progress has been made in understanding the physiology of organisms by isolating the major components, such as enzymes and nucleic acids. The time is now ripe for the development of systems biology. This requires integration of the entire biological framework of an organism, starting with bacteria and ending with humans. This effort will require broad training in the basic sciences and medicine, from biology to mathematics.
Modern biological research has become nearly impossible without the use of computers. Recognition of this new reality has led in part to the emergence of a burgeoning discipline at the intersection of biology and computer science: bioinformatics. Closely related to computational biology, bioinformatics takes a computer science perspective in developing new methods and techniques pertinent to analysis of the vast amounts of data being produced by biology researchers and especially in the fields of genomics and proteomics. Bioinformatics draws heavily on methods developed by the slightly older field of clinical (medical) informatics; however, a new breed of scientist is being produced by academic programs in the evolving field of biomedical informatics (which subsumes both clinical and biological applications of informatics principles and methods).
An interdisciplinary field concerned with decision mak-