Reducing the burden that arthritis and musculoskeletal and skin diseases place on patients, their families, and society depends on our ability to translate scientific discoveries into new and improved treatments, diagnostic approaches, and prevention strategies. While we have many examples of how NIAMS-funded research has improved the lives of patients and their families, NIAMS—along with the broader NIH community—is committed to enhancing the efficiency of this translation from discovery to better health.
In December 2011, the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) was established at NIH to advance the development, testing and implementation of diagnostics and therapeutics. The NCATS was designed to promote innovative and data-driven approaches to make translational research more efficient, science-based, and predictive. Because NCATS is intended to facilitate research translation across a wide range of human diseases and conditions, I want to make sure you are aware of its many programs that NIAMS investigators can leverage to advance their work.
Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSAs) comprise the largest NCATS resource, and are now found at approximately 60 research institutions across the country. NIH made the first of these awards in 2006 to help researchers overcome the increasing costs and complexity of clinical and translational research and various regulatory burdens. To this end, the CTSAs house numerous information resources, provide data management expertise, and assist with recruiting, mentoring and retaining a critical mass of qualified clinical and translational investigators. In addition to supporting a networked research infrastructure and training opportunities, the CTSA consortium offers many tools for clinical investigators who need assistance with designing patient-oriented studies, recruiting participants and engaging communities in the research process. ResearchMatch, for example, is a secure, electronic registry designed with CTSA support to connect potential volunteers with researchers.
Although some CTSA resources are available only to members, NIAMS is proud of the extent to which its grantees are extending the network’s reach through collaborations. In the program’s first five years, almost two hundred NIAMS-funded grants leveraged CTSA facilities, core resources and equipment, staff expertise, and administrative services. Now, approximately two dozen NIAMS-funded scientists serve as CTSA Principal Investigators and in other CTSA leadership positions, further strengthening the role CTSAs can play in translating discoveries into better health for people who have bone, joint, muscle, or skin conditions.
NCATS also offers resources to help scientists conduct pre-clinical research that moves basic biologic observations into interventions leading to healthier lives. In addition to maintaining databases and software tools and funding new projects to speed screening and toxicity studies, NCATS sponsors specific programs to accelerate the development of treatments for rare and neglected diseases. Because of this focus, the NIH Office of Rare Diseases Research—which supports and coordinates research, identifies scientific opportunities, and provides information on rare diseases—is part of NCATS. Because many of the diseases within the NIAMS mission are categorized as rare (meaning they affect fewer than 200,000 people in the United States), this NCATS component is of particular interest to us.