As we look ahead and settle into the new year, I wanted to first reflect on the many achievements and milestones that NIAMS accomplished in 2022.
NIAMS was part of several major NIH initiatives in 2022 that will advance the NIAMS mission and help improve the lives of people living with joint pain and autoimmune diseases. For example, NIAMS worked with the Helping to End Addiction Long-term® Initiative, or NIH HEAL Initiative®, to launch the Restoring Joint Health and Function to Reduce Pain (RE-JOIN) Consortium. This Consortium will bring together research teams to create a map of the different types of sensory neurons found in the knee and temporomandibular joint, better known as the jaw joint. The long-term goal of this program is to develop more effective therapies for joint pain, which can potentially reduce the burden of opioid dependency and eventually help bring an end to the opioid epidemic.
NIAMS, in conjunction with the NIH Office of Research on Women’s Health (ORWH), also launched the Team Science Leadership Scholars Program (LSP) in Women’s Health. This initiative will train research scholars by helping them to acquire and hone team science leadership and mentoring skills. The LSP is embedded within the Accelerating Medicines Partnership® Autoimmune and Immune-Mediated Diseases (AMP® AIM) program and aligns NIAMS’ goal of supporting team science and collaboration with the ORWH vision of preparing leaders in women’s health research. This program will be accepting applications through February 20, 2023.
Last year, NIAMS also brought together researchers, clinicians, and FDA and patient representatives for a roundtable titled, Cartilage Preservation and Restoration in Knee Osteoarthritis (OA): Challenges, Gaps, and Opportunities. The roundtable discussion focused on regenerative medicine approaches for cartilage preservation and restoration in knee OA. Participants discussed emerging therapeutic approaches and outlined the challenges and gaps impeding these potential opportunities.
NIAMS, in partnership with the National Institute on Aging (NIA) and the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD), also hosted a workshop titled, Health Disparities in Osteoarthritis. This meeting brought together OA investigators and health disparities researchers to discuss why disparities in OA treatment and care exist and how they can be addressed. These experts also helped to identify research gaps that future NIH studies could address. The roundtable and workshop further highlight NIAMS’ commitment to collaboration with public and private partners to address important public health issues.
In 2022, NIAMS also initiated plans to update and revise its Strategic Plan. NIAMS published a request for information to gather stakeholder input that will help guide the development of the Institute’s 2025-2029 Strategic Plan. The new plan will focus on cross-cutting thematic research opportunities where the Institute can be best positioned to make a difference in the lives of all Americans. We are grateful for all the input that we received and look forward to sharing a draft of the plan for additional comment.
NIAMS has also been actively supporting NIH’s diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) activities. NIAMS recently established a Culture Committee to help guide the Institute’s DEIA efforts, both inside its own ranks and among its external research community. NIAMS has also continued to support the NIH diversity supplement program.
Research shows that more diverse teams outperform less diverse ones, with the benefit of a variety of viewpoints. With this in mind, NIAMS continued to focus on reinvigorating our recruitment efforts through multiple avenues. Notably we have successfully recruited three researchers through the NIH Independent Research Scholar program, an initiative that focuses on improving the workforce diversity of intramural Independent Investigators. Our fellowship program and summer research programs are among several tools we use to advance our diversity-focused research. Recently, the NIAMS training office established a sponsorship pilot for undergraduate students and students underrepresented in the biomedical sciences. In addition, we hosted students in a hybrid program of both in-person and virtual fellows through the 2022 Summer Student Internship Program. Participants in both programs were recruited nationally and competitively selected to participate in these research and mentoring opportunities.
Recruitment of a talented and diverse workforce is important, but so is keeping the one you have. Retaining a diverse cadre of scientists within the NIAMS’ Intramural Research Program (IRP) has been integral to its success. NIAMS IRP researchers have made tremendous progress on several areas of interest to our mission, including demonstrating how standard antibiotics treatment can lead to changes in the skin microbiome; identifying health disparities in Native American populations; and collaborating with the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) to lead an international team of researchers towards the discovery of a new adult-onset inflammatory disease, named VEXAS syndrome.
It is important to recognize the dedicated NIAMS family, without whom none of these activities would have been possible. I want to personally thank all of my colleagues for continuing their great work while simultaneously dealing with the ongoing struggles of the COVID-19 pandemic. NIAMS made great strides last year to repair the disruption to the pipeline of investigators that was caused by the pandemic, and we will continue to enhance these efforts in 2023. As our researchers and investigators have continued to support the NIAMS mission, we will also continue to support them.
In 2023, in addition to continuing our efforts to fulfill our mission through initiatives and supporting the best investigator-initiated science, I look forward to further engagement with the NIAMS community and our stakeholders as we develop our strategic plan. These collaborations and partnerships have always been, and will continue to be, critically important to NIAMS’ success.
Thanks again to all of our dedicated staff who have worked tirelessly to promote the NIAMS mission. I anticipate another great year!
Lindsey A. Criswell, M.D., M.P.H., D.Sc.
Director, National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases