Fogarty is building research capacity to fight noncommunicable diseases

November / December 2017 | Volume 16, Issue 6

City street very crowded with pedestrians, tall buildings with signs and merchandise line the street
© 2003 Vijay Sureshkumar, Courtesy of Photoshare

Pedestrian traffic on the busiest street in Chennai, India.

By Karin Zeitvogel

Long seen as a burden of the developed world, noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) now disproportionately affect the very resource-poor countries that are least prepared to tackle them. Nearly three-quarters of the 38 million deaths caused by NCDs each year occur in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), where the prevalence of chronic diseases is predicted to rise sharply.

To help address this imbalance, Fogarty supports efforts to build the ranks of researchers overseas and expand knowledge of chronic diseases. One way it offers support is through its Chronic, Noncommunicable Diseases and Disorders Across the Lifespan (NCD-Lifespan) research training grants, which address not only diabetes, cancer, stroke and cardiovascular disease but also mental illness, neurological and developmental disorders, and substance abuse.

Most often under the program, grants are provided to U.S. universities to team up with their foreign counterparts. Together, they set up programs that train new researchers to conduct research to alter unhealthy lifestyle-related behaviors that cause most NCDs, including physical inactivity, unhealthy diet, tobacco use and excessive consumption of alcohol. Participants also study other aspects of chronic diseases including early-life determinants, co-morbid conditions and common interventions.

Many behaviors that cause NCDs are the product of an ongoing global epidemiologic transition, which has seen centers of population shift from rural areas to cities, where people adopt more sedentary lifestyles and diets shift from grains, fruits and vegetables to primarily processed, low-fiber foods.

NCD-Lifespan has sought to scale up already available interventions in LMICs by developing in-country research capacity and building local knowledge of everything from disease patterns to cultural norms.

More than 50 NCD-Lifespan training grants, backed in full or in part by Fogarty, have been awarded since 2009 to institutions from Argentina to Vietnam, Egypt to South Africa. The aim of each program has been to train local researchers to better understand the growing threat from NCDs, determine the unique cultural circumstances and available resources, and map out the steps needed to reduce the dangers to health from chronic diseases.

"We share many common problems with LMICs, including a growing epidemic of chronic illness that we face in the U.S. and other high-income countries," said Fogarty Director Dr. Roger I. Glass. "As we've seen in other global research collaborations, the solutions we find together for taking on NCDs may be applicable to improving the health of people everywhere."

NIH funding partners for the NCD-Lifespan program include the National Cancer Institute (NCI), National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), National Eye Institute (NEI), National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR), National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR), National Institute on Aging (NIA), National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD), NIH Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (OBSSR), NIH Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) and NIH Office of Research on Women's Health (ORWH).

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