At the January meeting of the National Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases Advisory Council, we received an update from NIAMS Scientific Director John J. O’Shea, M.D., on the outstanding research being conducted through the NIAMS Intramural Research Program (IRP). The IRP is an important investment by the NIAMS, representing approximately 10 percent of our total NIAMS budget. Dr. O’Shea and NIAMS Clinical Director Richard Siegel, M.D., Ph.D., lead the program comprised of over 30 basic science and clinical faculty and more than 100 trainees. The work of the NIAMS IRP spans the range of basic, translational, clinical, and epidemiological studies. Our scientists and clinicians are doing ground-breaking research, and utilizing innovative tools and partnerships to further the NIAMS and NIH mission.
One of the hallmarks of the NIH Intramural Research Program, and a concentrated focus of the NIAMS intramural leadership, is the integration of new and emerging research tools. State-of-the-art sequencing technologies within our IRP have led to exciting discoveries about the structure of the genome and how gene expression is regulated, both in immune cells and other tissues, and facilitated the identification of genetic changes that contribute to the development of several autoinflammatory diseases. Other ongoing studies are leveraging the outstanding scientific imaging resources of the NIH Clinical Center to detect inflammation within blood vessels, and to determine how this may contribute to the increased risk of cardiovascular disease observed in patients with autoimmune diseases.
The NIAMS IRP is also engaged in clinical research, using the expertise of its scientists and resources of the NIH Clinical Center to better diagnose and treat both common and rare rheumatic diseases. To aid in its research and training mission, the NIAMS Clinical Research Program is leading several partnerships with local patient communities. For example, the NIAMS Community Health Clinic (CHC) was established in 2001 to better understand diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, and to gain insights about why these and other rheumatic diseases disproportionately affect people in certain minority groups. Last year, the clinic relocated to the Clinical Center on the NIH campus. This location has allowed patients easy access to all necessary clinical services, including laboratory, radiology, and other special consultants, while maintaining strong ongoing partnerships with primary care providers in the community. In addition, NIAMS joined with local leaders to establish a new D.C. Lupus Consortium (DCLC), which held its first face-to-face meeting in April 2016. The DCLC fosters collaboration between intramural lupus researchers and regional academic, private practice, and patient advocacy communities, and will facilitate resource sharing, information exchange, and patient referrals for clinical trials.
Another key commitment of the NIAMS IRP is the development of the next generation of the scientific workforce. Through the IRP, NIAMS supports training on the latest advances in basic and clinical research for individuals at all stages of their careers by offering summer experiences for high schoolers and undergraduates through postdoctoral training. In addition, the NIAMS leads the NIH Rheumatology Training Program, an advanced medical specialty fellowship for either adult rheumatology, or, through a joint effort with Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., pediatric rheumatology. Finally, NIAMS supports additional advanced training for rheumatologists through the Scholars in Translational Research program. The Scholars program provides a pathway to independence for research rheumatologists who have completed their fellowship. You can hear from program participants and graduates in their own words through several LabTV videos posted on the NIAMS YouTube channel.
I also want to note an important organizational change planned for the IRP in the coming year. Working with our colleagues at the National Cancer Institute (NCI), we intend to transfer the Dermatology Branch from NCI to NIAMS. Public notice of our intent to reorganize these components of the intramural research program was made at the January NIAMS Advisory Council meeting, and at the February 15 meeting of the National Cancer Advisory Board. The anticipated move provides a great opportunity for synergy across the scientific programs within NIAMS, as well as between our labs and many others across the NIH. We expect the transfer will benefit the NIH, the investigators, and the dermatology community as a whole. The long history of leadership of the Dermatology Branch in the skin research field will be preserved. Once the transfer has been implemented, I will provide more information in a forthcoming letter.
The NIAMS IRP plays a critical role in the NIH mission to uncover fundamental knowledge about biological systems, and apply that knowledge to enhance health, lengthen life, and reduce illness and disability. You can stay connected to the latest news from the IRP through the NIAMS website and the IRP Facebook page.