As I settle into my new role as director of NIAMS, I have the honor of leading the Institute on its 35th anniversary. We have reached many important milestones since our founding in 1986 and I feel tremendous excitement about what we can accomplish in the next 35 years. I am part of a generation of researchers who have never known a time without NIAMS during their scientific careers.
Over the years, NIAMS support has helped lead to critical advances in care for conditions including osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), scleroderma and rare diseases affecting the lives of millions of Americans.
In the past few years, NIAMS has found innovative ways to make our research support go further by working collaboratively with research teams outside the government. A prime example is the Accelerating Medicines Partnership (AMP). The program for rheumatoid arthritis and systemic lupus erythematosus, known as AMP RA/SLE, has been a successful public-private initiative. AMP RA/SLE helped us make unprecedented progress in understanding the cell populations, pathways, and potential new drug targets that drive these diseases.
Our near future includes plans that seek to build on that success. The NIH is developing the Accelerating Medicines Partnership: Autoimmune and Immune-Mediated Diseases (AMP AIM), covering rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, psoriatic spectrum diseases and Sjögren’s syndrome. Our NIH partners include the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR), and the Office of Research on Women's Health (ORWH). Another exciting effort involving the wider NIAMS community is the Molecular Transducers of Physical Activity Consortium (MoTrPAC), which is assessing the molecular changes that occur in response to physical activity. I look forward to working together with NIH and NIAMS staff, as well as private and public partners from the external community, to find additional ways we can make our budget dollars go even further.
These types of projects rely heavily on teamwork, which is one of my guiding principles as a leader. The Helping to End Addiction Long-termSM Initiative is another great example of trans-NIH cooperation involving our Institute. As part of that effort, NIAMS leads the Back Pain Consortium (BACPAC), which is a patient-centered translational research program that supports studies to address the need for effective and personalized therapies for chronic low back pain. As I connect with other leaders within the NIH, I am optimistic there will be more opportunities to find synergies across institutes and centers where we can work together. Government can help facilitate far-reaching ideas, but we can’t do it alone.
To help NIAMS develop a full picture of the patient community’s needs and corresponding scientific goals, we need the unique perspectives of patients and the research community. This is where the extended NIAMS family — from patients to professional organizations to trainees and many other groups — will continue to help guide our mission. I look forward to meeting with the wider community and hearing about the needs of our various partners.
While NIAMS is dedicated to investing in today’s most promising research efforts, we must also keep our eyes on the future. We have investigators looking to start their own independent careers and there is a risk that without proper support, we could lose them. These are the scientists who will continue to push forward our most important existing research efforts and will guide us down new scientific paths we can’t yet imagine.
As we have learned over the past year, funding is not the only factor that can influence scientific progress. COVID-19 has been a significant obstacle to moving our science ahead as labs were forced to close or alter their procedures. But this unexpected pandemic also offered a chance to show the true value of the NIH. The collective efforts of many institutes and centers have raised the profile of the NIH and reinforced the importance of biomedical research.
As I settle into this new role as NIAMS director, I have seen how eager my team is to find creative ways to move our scientific mission ahead. I look forward to making new connections and collaborating with the wider community in the coming months as we forge a new path into the future.
Lindsey A. Criswell, M.D., M.P.H., D.Sc.
National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases
National Institutes of Health