Concept: Whole Person Research Initiative
Project Concept Review
Council Date: May 12, 2023
Program Director: Emrin Horgusluoglu, Ph.D., and Elizabeth Ginexi, Ph.D.
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health’s (NCCIH’s) strategic plan defines whole person research as including three components: (1) exploring the fundamental science of interconnected systems; (2) investigating multicomponent interventions or therapeutic systems; and (3) examining the impact of these interventions on multisystem or multiorgan outcomes.
The time is right for whole person research due to several converging developments. Advances including multi-omics data, medical informatics, electronic health records, mobile and wearable technologies, social media and web data, geospatial data, total-body imaging, digital twins, and movement phenotyping have laid the groundwork. A whole person research approach can build models of multicomponent interventions by linking across biological, physiological, behavioral, social, and environmental domains by leveraging existing data and collecting new dynamically generated data at multiple temporal and spatial scales.
In September 2021, NCCIH convened a Whole Person Research Workshop along with several NIH Institutes and Centers to discuss examples of research studies in these three areas from diverse fields and explore methodologies potentially appropriate for whole person research. A theme evident throughout the workshop was that focusing on a single disease, condition, or body part will not be sufficient to solve the major health problems in the United States. Insights about multicomponent interventions impacting multisystem outcomes will be critical for a more integrative understanding of pathophysiology and the design of therapeutic interventions aimed at the whole person in their environmental contexts.
This new whole person research initiative will address this daunting health care challenge by studying the complex, interconnected nature of health and enhancing methods to examine the impacts of multicomponent interventions on multisystem outcomes.
Purpose of Proposed Initiative
The initiative will aim to create dedicated multidisciplinary research programs in whole person research that will develop and test state-of-the-art research models through innovative study designs, computational methods, and analytical models to quantitatively study, represent, simulate, and/or analyze the effects of multicomponent interventions on the interconnected physiological systems of the whole person within diverse social and environmental contexts. The scope of this initiative will include developing and testing models and methods for basic, mechanistic, clinical trial, and observational data research projects to support whole person research.
The proposed multidisciplinary research programs will provide a strong and much-needed foundation for whole person health through the development and testing of whole person research models at computational and experimental levels that can ultimately be adapted to build innovative research, therapeutic treatments, and care models targeting the whole person.
Examples of supported activities under this whole person research initiative include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Build interconnected networks of multidisciplinary researchers.
- Create an overarching coordinating center to facilitate collaboration across the initiative.
- Support demonstration projects related to multisystem connections and interactions, multiple component interventions, or the impact of multicomponent interventions on multisystem connections and interactions in pre-clinical models and/or human subjects.
- Support pilot, exploratory, or feasibility studies aimed at developing and testing cutting-edge study designs, computational methods, or simulation models to solve unique challenges involving interconnected multiple systems and complex multicomponent interventions.
- Develop and test pilot avant-garde research models and methods for studying the impact of multicomponent interventions on interconnected multisystem outcomes.
- Ultimately, support efficacy and effectiveness trials focused on whole person health that could be based on the innovative whole person research models developed in the earlier phase of the initiative.