The Strategic Plan: An Interview with NHGRI Director Eric Green

Reading time: 3 – 5 minutes

In January, we reported on the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) Vision to Move Genomic Medicine from Base Pairs to Bedside. Written by Eric D. Green, M.D., Ph.D., Director of the NHGRI, Mark Guyer, Ph.D., Director of the Division of Extramural Research and Acting Deputy Director of the NHGRI, and others at the NHGRI, the plan maps the next steps the field of genomic research must take to discover medical secrets hidden within the human genome and transfer them to physicians and patients [1].

Interestingly, the strategic plan really isn’t a strategic plan but a list of issues to be addressed. And on this note, Daniel MacArthur, a genomics researcher and author of Wired’s Genetic Future, found the NHGRI document frustrating to read [2]:

… this is an impressive, worthwhile and highly readable piece of work, but one that ultimately feels unfinished. As research dollars begin to get tighter, there is an urgent need for an actual strategic plan for building the resources and tools required to make genomic medicine a reality within a realistic budget.

In other words: a specific NHGRI funding plan to overcome the issues. This could prove difficult in the current U.S. fiscal environment. Even though President Obama has resisted cuts to biomedical research funding in his 2012 budget proposal, the outlook isn’t bright. Decreasing NIH funding for short-range budget goals will disrupt five-year-long longitudinal studies make it impossible to start new research [3]. Moreover, it will hurt U.S. standing as the world leader in biomedical advances.

Five research domains of the NHGR plan

The NHGRI vision is framed in terms of five research domains. They span activities from basic research to how the human genome is organized and functions to clinical applications that will use knowledge of the genome and genomic technologies to improve medical care and health maintenance. The research domains are:

  1. Understanding the structure of genomes
  2. Understanding the biology of genomes
  3. Understanding the biology of disease
  4. Advancing the science of medicine
  5. Improving the effectiveness of healthcare

The plan also emphasizes three additional areas of interest that are important across those five domains: informatics, education and societal implications.

Because the NHGRI’s strategic plan moves forward on multiple fronts, the anticipate it to have several audiences. It obviously speaks to genomic researchers. But as genomics is permeating many areas of society, as well as science, it also offers opportunities for students of law, ethics, sociology and public policy as well as students in basic science, clinical science and clinical medicine.

Watch NHGRI Director Eric Green talk about the strategic plan and the research domains outlined in the strategy:


  1. Green, Guyer & NHGRI. Charting a course for genomic medicine from base pairs to bedside. Nature 470, 204–213.
  2. When Is A Strategic Plan Not A Strategic Plan? Genetic Future, Wired. 2011 Feb 15.
  3. Budget cuts at the NIH: Department of nose-cutting, face-spiting. The Economist. 2011 Mar 9.
About the Author

Walter Jessen is a senior writer for Highlight HEALTH Media.