Recently, I had the opportunity to connect with many of our NIAMS Coalition members at our biennial Outreach and Education Day. The NIAMS Coalition, a consortium of more than 90 professional and voluntary organizations concerned with the Institute’s programs, are key partners in carrying out our mission. Their areas of interest closely align with ours, and we rely on them to help further public understanding about diseases and conditions of the bones, joints, muscles and skin. We host Outreach and Education Day to provide a forum for our Coalition members to learn more about NIH and NIAMS programs, and to learn from each other, as well. A full summary of this year’s meeting is available here.
I frequently meet with member groups on an individual basis to discuss their specific needs and ideas, but only at our Outreach and Education meeting am I able to interact with so many members at once. At this year’s event, the enthusiasm in the room was evident. We had the largest turnout ever, with more than 50 representatives—many of them first-time attendees—from 42 different Coalition organizations.
Notable among the day’s speakers was Mary Woolley, President of Research!America. Ms. Woolley gave an overview of her organization’s public opinion poll data on the importance of science in public policy, and stressed the need for us to elevate the visibility of medical research and researchers among the American public. She also highlighted Research!America’s National Health Research Forum and the 21st Century Cures effort as critical to sustaining and increasing the momentum of biomedical discovery.
Participants also heard from Janine Clayton, M.D., director of the NIH Office of Research on Women’s Health. You may remember that in August 2015, Dr. Clayton provided a guest Director’s Letter describing the NIH initiative to ensure that sex and gender variables were built into all stages of scientific research, including preclinical research. At the Outreach and Education meeting, Dr. Clayton gave an excellent overview and update of the program. Ensuring that sex and gender variables be considered in all biomedical science, she noted, is an essential step toward personalized medicine. Her presentation set the stage for our end-of-the-day speaker, Gwynne Jenkins, Ph.D., of the NIH Office of Science Policy. She described the president’s Precision Medicine Initiative Cohort Program, and how the NIH intends to implement it. The PMI Cohort Program is a participant-centered, data-driven enterprise supporting research at the intersection of human biology, behavior, genetics, environment, data science, and computation. It aims to produce new knowledge with the goal of developing more effective ways to prolong health and treat disease, and seeks to extend precision medicine to all diseases by building a national research cohort of one million or more Americans.
Attendees also had a chance to hear from one another during afternoon breakout sessions. They discussed topics such as:
- how to leverage resources to improve research opportunities,
- policies aimed at enhancing clinical research,
- building innovative partnerships, and
- best practices for sharing health information online.
I was heartened by the many interactions the attendees had with each other, and with me and other NIAMS staff members throughout the day. I commend our Coalition Co-chairs, Leah Howard of the National Psoriasis Foundation, and Mary Wheatley of the Rheumatology Research Foundation, for their efforts to help us plan and execute this successful meeting. And I want to welcome our incoming Co-chair, Robert Riggs of the Scleroderma Foundation. Mr. Riggs takes over for Ms. Howard, whose two-year tenure ends this year.
Outreach and Education Day may be our most visible effort to motivate and connect with our constituents, but it is just one of many opportunities for us to provide information, gather feedback from our partners, and listen to the voices of our most dedicated stakeholders. As the Coalition continues to grow, its collective energy and dedication are empowering forces. I look forward to fostering strong partnerships with new and seasoned members alike.