During Bone and Joint Health National Awareness Week (October 12–20) the American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) cohosted the 2012 National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) Awareness Day with members of the NIAMS Coalition.
The biannual event seeks to educate Congress about the burden of diseases that affect the bones, joints, muscles and skin, and the critical need for NIAMS research to identify the cause of, and treatments for, these conditions. Currently, less than 2 percent of the National Institutes of Health annual budget is dedicated to funding the NIAMS, despite the high health care costs associated with the conditions that fall within the purview of the Institute.
The NIAMS Coalition is an alliance of more than 70 voluntary and professional associations, which includes the American College of Rheumatology, the Arthritis Foundation, and the Lupus Foundation of America. Congressional staff from key funding authorization committees—including the House Energy & Commerce Committee; the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee; and both House and Senate Appropriations Committees—attended the event.
NIAMS Director Stephen I. Katz, MD, PhD, addressed the group about the Institute’s mission, the research and medical advances being achieved, and the importance of continued support for research funding. Specifically, Dr. Katz discussed how investment in basic research can translate into clinical breakthroughs that go far beyond the original intent of the research.
According to Dr. Katz, in addition to the greatest scientific opportunities, NIAMS considers several other factors when setting research priorities, including the following:
- the percentage of the population affected by a disease
- the effect of the disease on patients’ quality of life
- research areas that need scientific pursuit
John O’Shea, MD, the NIAMS scientific director, gave participants a firsthand look into NIAMS research being conducted on JAK inhibitors, a class of medicines that function by inhibiting the effect of one or more members of the Janus kinase (JAK) family of enzymes. These enzymes act as signaling pathways and can trigger the symptoms of various diseases, including inflammatory diseases. Several ongoing clinical trials are examining the use of JAK3 inhibitors in treating rheumatoid arthritis.
Participants were also able to tour several NIAMS laboratories. Richard Siegel, MD, PhD, NIAMS clinical director, provided an overview of the autoimmune diseases research being performed. Dr. Siegel used a sophisticated microscope and computer monitor to exhibit abnormal cells from patients with rare genetic inflammatory diseases.
Using computer simulation, participants also had the opportunity to navigate through the human genome to look for nucleotide sequences that scientists believe might be the cause of autoimmune diseases like lupus. The delegation also visited the NIAMS Clinical Movement Analysis Laboratory, which quantitatively analyzes the biomechanical forces generated when walking, using the same technology employed by athletic trainers and movie special effects artists.
NIAMS Awareness Day supplements the AAOS’ Annual Research Capitol Hill (RCH) Days event. During RCH Days, AAOS fellows and their patients meet with members of Congress and make the case for increased funding for NIAMS research. The next AAOS Research Capitol Hill Days will take place Feb. 27–28, 2013, in Washington, D.C.