Each year, the NIAMS receives many worthy grant applications from talented researchers, but budgetary constraints prevent us from funding them all. We are always looking for creative ways to ensure the best science is supported, even if we are unable to fund it. Partnering with organizations that share our goals, including other government agencies, industry, patient groups and professional organizations, helps us extend our impact beyond our own resources and leverage our investments in research and training, which benefits everyone.
For example, since 2007, we have been partnering with NASA to facilitate research on the International Space Station and to integrate results from that research into an improved understanding of human physiology and health. This relationship continues to this day, with recent research on osteocytes and bone density loss. The results from this study, supported by the NIAMS, NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, and the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space, will serve dual purposes. It will help NASA understand the effects of microgravity on osteocytes, which will be critical as astronauts plan for future missions that require longer exposure to microgravity. Most relevant to the NIAMS mission is the potential for the findings to help patients on Earth who have bone disorders related to disuse or immobilization, or metabolic diseases such as osteoporosis.
Collaborations with industry and nonprofit organizations can redouble resources in such a way that can bring within reach a previously difficult-to-attain goal. The NIH Accelerating Medicines Partnership is a primary example of multiple parties with common interests coming together. AMP partners, including the Arthritis Foundation (AF), the Lupus Foundation of America, the Rheumatology Research Foundation (RRF), and the Lupus Research Institute/Alliance for Lupus Research—all NIAMS Coalition members—aim to transform current models for developing new diagnostics and treatments by identifying and validating promising biological targets. In addition to diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease, AMP is addressing the autoimmune diseases rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, which I discussed last October. By taking a "team science" approach, partners are focused on boosting our understanding of autoimmune diseases significantly, which should ultimately help us improve our treatment of them.
Other initiatives that have successfully leveraged resources include the Bone Quality Project, a component of the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health’s (FNIH) Biomarkers Consortium. The Project, of which the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research—another NIAMS Coalition member—is a core partner, aims to increase our understanding of osteoporosis and pave the way for more effective treatments. The FNIH-led Osteoarthritis Biomarkers Project, part of the Osteoarthritis Initiative, will do the same for osteoarthritis. The support of the AF, among other partners, helped make the project possible.
Professional organizations can also help augment career opportunities for promising early-stage investigators who may need additional support to ensure steady footing on their career path. For example, the RRF provides bridge funding to talented investigators who are in a transitional career period in which a steady stream of funding may not yet be available to them. These awards can help them stay the course of their chosen career, and perhaps one day make a significant discovery.
Furthermore, by teaming up with voluntary organizations, we are able to increase recruitment for clinical studies. Recently, the Vasculitis Translational Research Program of the NIAMS Intramural Research Program has been working with the Vasculitis Clinical Research Consortium (VCRC) to spread the word about a new vasculitis-related clinical research opportunity at the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda, Md. The VCRC is an integrated group of academic medical centers, patient support organizations such as the Vasculitis Foundation, and clinical research resources dedicated to conducting clinical trials for the different forms of vasculitis.
The NIAMS is always interested in partnerships and collaborative efforts than can potentially benefit the research community, patients and the Institute’s mission. We look forward to future opportunities to work together to turn discovery into health.