Last month, I had the pleasure of meeting with representatives from many of the NIAMS Coalition organizations at the NIAMS Coalition Outreach and Education Day. We host this event to provide a forum for our Coalition members to share best practices on connecting science with the public. Coalition members also have an opportunity to learn more about how the NIH and NIAMS function. The Coalition, a consortium of nearly 90 professional and voluntary organizations concerned with the Institute’s programs, are tremendous supporters of the NIAMS and NIH. They are key partners, and serve as the voices of the patients and professionals for whom we work. You can read a full summary of this year’s Outreach and Education Day here.
We have been holding Outreach and Education Day every other year since 2007, and each meeting is energizing and illuminating. A highlight of this year’s meeting included a particularly inspiring welcome by NIH Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., who set the tone for our gathering by expressing gratitude for the work that the Coalition does to further scientific research and increase public awareness of diseases of the bones, joints, muscles and skin. He reminded us that organizations like the ones in the NIAMS Coalition serve as our ambassadors to key constituents and decision makers.
We were further motivated by Maria Freire, Ph.D., who is President and Executive Director of the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health (FNIH). Dr. Freire described how the FNIH supports the NIH mission by creating public/private partnerships to boost funding for promising projects. Of particular note is the Osteoarthritis Biomarkers Project, which is building on the Osteoarthritis Initiative—also augmented with FNIH support—to identify biological markers for knee OA, so that we may better understand its progression and identify those who are most at risk. In addition, the Foundation’s recently announced Bone Quality Project will more precisely track the progression of osteoporosis and pave the way for more effective treatments.
The meeting was also a great opportunity to ask our Coalition members for feedback on our efforts to develop a long-range plan for fiscal years 2015-2019. The plan will help guide the research that NIAMS supports over the next five years. Public input on the plan is vital to its success. Comments are being accepted until January 15, 2014, so please add your voice to the discussion.
Outreach and Education Day is our largest effort to connect with our key constituents, but it is only one of many such activities. We involve Coalition members in several Institute-sponsored programs, such as scientific meetings and retreats, roundtable discussions, and listening sessions, where we address research needs and opportunities across the spectrum of diseases within the NIAMS portfolio. In addition, Coalition members often serve on the NIAMS Advisory Council, which is comprised of scientific and lay members who have expertise in the mission areas of the Institute. Our Advisory Council helps to inform the decision-making process and to shape new research initiatives.
Other interactions designed to foster and facilitate information-sharing with our Coalition members include:
- Teleconferences between Coalition members and NIAMS and NIH senior staff
- Multicultural outreach efforts
- Congressional briefings and special events, including patient visits to the NIH campus
- Information dissemination activities
I look forward to continuing the NIAMS tradition of building and maintaining strong partnerships with our Coalition members. Our research advances, training programs, and information dissemination efforts are for the benefit of everyone.