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Bridging Disciplines in the Brain, Behavioral, and Clinical Sciences
neurosurgeons; and development of medical and surgical treatments for temporal lobe epilepsy, which resulted from the efforts of neurologists, electroencephalographers, neurophysiologists, neuropharmacologists, and neurosurgeons.
The need for interdisciplinary research appears to be increasing. Newly emerging health problems, as well as those that have plagued us over time, are proving to be surprisingly complex as scientists and healthcare providers begin to recognize and appreciate the intricate interplay among environment, behavior, and disease. One need only point to HIV infection, heart disease, and drug abuse (including tobacco use) as three prime examples of the intersection of behavior and health. Within broad fields, such as mental health research, the need to understand the entire human organism—not just one part of it—is driving disciplines toward each other as scientists seek better ways to prevent, diagnose, treat, and control such conditions as schizophrenia, bipolar affective disorders, and learning disabilities. Many of the chronic conditions that challenge us today do not respond well to the single investigator, single discipline model that worked well in the past, as in the paradigm of infectious disease.3 Solutions to current and future health problems will likely require drawing on a variety of disciplines and on approaches in which interdisciplinary efforts characterize not only the cutting edge of research, but also the utilization of knowledge. The next generation of scientists must be prepared to integrate the advances of rapidly progressing disciplines.
The basis of many health problems is not well understood, and it is increasingly recognized that many disorders have a wide array of causes. Defining the causes of disorders is itself an important emerging field, and fuller understanding will require input from many disciplines. Furthermore, addressing the burden of illness requires understanding of both the biology of the disorder and the cultural and psychosocial aspects of living with it. The problems are complicated, and the solutions are not easy to come by; this might explain why, despite the good intentions and fine recommendations of numerous previously convened groups, change has been slow to come. Long-held biases, beliefs, educational practices, and research funding mechanisms have created a system in which it is easier to conduct unidisciplinary than multidisciplinary work. Creation of environments in which interdisciplinary research and training occur will probably require many changes and multiple integrated approaches. Although it might be difficult, it is well worth the effort because many of today's disciplines (e.g., neuroscience, biochemistry, and bioinformatics) started as interdisciplinary efforts and many of today's interdisciplinary efforts will become tomorrow's disciplines.
Over the last 10 years, as interdisciplinary research has been discussed with increasing frequency, several authors have offered definitions of interdisciplinary research as a first step to developing a common understanding of its chal-