HEI's Research and Review Processes
How does HEI work?
HEI is dedicated to first-rate science from defining the
goals through reviewing the results. The projects that HEI funds either provide scientific
information of direct and immediate regulatory relevance, or pave the way for developing
such information. Two independent committees, the Health Research Committee and the Health
Review Committee, work in an environment uniquely structured to foster the necessary
separation between selecting and overseeing research on the one hand and critically
reviewing results on the other. This separation permits HEI to fund and guide research, as
well as to provide credible peer review of that same research. A scientific and
administrative staff works with the committees to conduct the Institute's business.
Research Process. The Health Research Committee,
chaired by Dr. David Eaton, is responsible for defining, implementing, and overseeing the
Institute's research program. The Research Committee consults with HEI's sponsors and
other interested parties to determine research priorities and to develop the HEI Strategic
Plan. Once the Research Committee has defined an area of inquiry, the Institute issues a
request for applications to announce broadly to the scientific community that research
applications are being solicited. Applications are first reviewed for scientific quality
by an ad hoc panel, and then reviewed by the committee who seek to develop an integrated
research program. Studies recommended by the Research Committee undergo final evaluation
by the Board of Directors, which also reviews the procedures,
independence, and quality of the selection process.
HEI's research program is more than a set of good individual research projects. By working
with the principal investigators, the Research Committee and staff help to build a
coordinated program of related studies designed to provide more comprehensive answers to
questions of regulatory significance than would be possible with independent studies.
During the course of each study, HEI monitors progress by means of periodic reports,
workshops, presentations at the Institute's Annual Conference, and site visits. When a
study is completed and the investigator submits a final report, the Research Committee's
involvement with the study ceases.
Review Process. The Health
Review Committee, chaired by Dr. Homer Boushey, conducts
a critical, in-depth evaluation of every HEI-funded study. The Review Committee
and staff, which is not involved with ongoing studies in any way, assess the
scientific quality of each Investigator's Report and evaluate the study's contribution
to unresolved scientific questions. HEI communicates the complete findings
(both positive and negative) of the studies it funds in Research Reports which
consist of one or more related Investigators' Reports and the Health Review
Committee's Commentary on those reports. The Commentary discusses the strengths
and limitations of the studies and sets the findings into scientific and regulatory
context. With each Report, the Institute also publishes a one-page Statement,
written for nonscientists, that summarizes the scientific background and rationale
for funding the study, the investigator's approach and methods, the key findings,
and the Committee's interpretation of the study.
HEI typically distributes its Research Reports, without charge, to the EPA, industry sponsors, scientific community, public interest groups, and
biomedical libraries. The Reports are also listed on national data bases such as MEDLINE,
NTIS, and Chemical Abstracts. In addition, HEI urges all investigators to publish the
results of their work in the peer-reviewed literature, and hundreds of such contributions
have been published.
Special Reviews and Projects. In addition to its longer term research
program, HEI is called upon periodically to conduct special reviews and projects that
address particular areas of science. Recent special projects have included a review of the
health effects of asbestos in public and commercial buildings, a critical review and
reanalysis of key studies of the links between particulate air pollution and mortality,
and comprehensive scientific literature reviews of the health effects of diesel exhaust
and oxygenated fuels. For each review, the HEI Board of Directors appointed an expert
panel to work with the staff to conduct or oversee the project. The Special Report
describing this work is subjected to independent peer review before it is published.