October 27, 2010

Dear Colleagues:

I would like to give you an update on some of the exciting activities supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) that were made possible by funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). As you may recall, $10.4 billion was allocated to NIH in a bill signed by President Obama in February 2009, for projects that would rapidly stimulate biomedical research, and retain and generate jobs in the research enterprise. A series of initiatives was rolled out progressively, and I would like to report on some that are already entering—or completing—their second year.

Reaching Milestones, Creating and Retaining Jobs

Here are several examples of projects that are already attaining some of the goals of ARRA funding: reaching milestones, creating and retaining jobs, and bolstering the businesses that support research.

  • Dr. Mary Bouxsein, assistant professor of orthopedics at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital in Boston, is using ARRA funding to study the negative effects of calorie restriction on bone growth. Results from this research in young mice have implications for anorexia in adolescence as a contributor to poor bone quality and osteoporosis later in life.
  • Dr. Hongbo Chi, assistant member of the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital Department of Immunology in Memphis, Tennessee, received ARRA funding to further his research on the factors that regulate balance in the immune system between its normal function—protecting the body from invading pathogens—and disease-related aberrations, such as inflammation and self-attack (autoimmunity). Recent discoveries resulting from this work have identified key pathways involved in controlling immune reactions; these discoveries may lead to new medications that block inflammation and tissue damage in autoimmune diseases.
  • Dr. John Elias, adjunct professor of polymer engineering at the University of Akron, is advancing his evaluation of knee joint realignment procedures to alleviate osteoarthritis pain with ARRA support through NIAMS. Dr. Elias has purchased necessary supplies and software licenses with ARRA money, and has been able to employ biomedical engineering students from his university. In addition, this opportunity has allowed him to enter into collaborations with other researchers at the university.
  • Dr. Kathleen Green, professor of pathology at Northwestern University, studies the molecular and cellular interactions that are the basis for skin integrity. Funding from ARRA allowed her to purchase equipment and add personnel to her research projects, as well as keep a postdoctoral fellow and technician in her laboratory. This retained staff is actively involved in collaborations with other laboratories, which expands the impact of ARRA-funded investments.

Other ARRA success stories may be found at the NIAMS ARRA Chronicles Web page. We anticipate many more reports of ARRA-funded research achievements in the coming months.

Summer Supplements for Students and Science Educators

One of the first programs launched—ARRA Administrative Supplements for Students and Science Educators—had another successful summer in 2010. I would like to highlight a few of the 12 projects supported by NIAMS this year.

  • Mark Kohn, a senior at the University of California, Berkeley, traveled to the laboratory of Dr. Peter Amadio, professor of orthopedics at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Mark gained valuable experience in his first steps toward becoming a physician scientist, and Dr. Amadio benefited from mentoring this student from the West Coast who contributed to the laboratory's scientific progress.
  • Dr. Bruce Herron, a research scientist at the New York State Department of Health, hosted Kristin Kirby, a student from the Advanced Science Research Program at Columbia High School in New York City, and Krista Morales, a student at the State University of New York College at Plattsburgh. Dr. Herron's research on new blood vessel growth (angiogenesis) and wound healing moved forward with the participation of these students this summer, and having new people in his laboratory laid the foundation for receiving additional students in the future.
  • Stephen Hunt, a science teacher at East Jessamine Middle School in Nicholasville, Kentucky, deepened his knowledge of physiology through his summer research with Dr. Karyn Esser, professor of physiology at the University of Kentucky. Mr. Hunt also discovered new ideas for teaching middle school and high school science classes.

These awards have been instrumental in developing the younger generation's interest in science and research.

NIH Director's Opportunity for Research in Five Thematic Areas

A more recent ARRA-funded program—the NIH Director's Opportunity for Research in Five Thematic Areas—focuses on the NIH research topics articulated by Dr. Francis Collins, who became director of NIH the year following the initiation of ARRA:

  • Using genomics and other high throughput technologies in understanding fundamental biology and diseases
  • Translating basic science discoveries into new and better therapies
  • Applying science to health care reform efforts
  • Focusing on global health
  • Reinvigorating the biomedical research community

This initiative supports projects with high-impact ideas that are likely to yield substantial research and technological advances during a short period of research (funding support is limited to three years).

  • A project conducted by Dr. Mary Goldring and colleagues at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City, with support from NIAMS, is applying genomics and other high throughput technologies to the study of osteoarthritis. They are investigating multiple stress- and inflammation-associated factors that may contribute to the complex mechanisms of joint degradation in the disease.

Two other projects that have NIAMS support involve translating basic science discoveries into clinical testing of new, improved therapeutics.

  • A team at the University of Southern California, led by Drs. Mei Chen and David Woodley, is planning clinical trials for a rare, inherited blistering condition—recessive dystrophic epidermolysis bullosa—using an approach that was successful in healing lesions in a mouse model of the disease.
  • Dr. Edwin Horwitz and colleagues at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia are expanding their previous clinical research on pluripotent, mesenchymal stem cells to stimulate short-term bone growth in children with osteogenesis imperfecta, a heritable bone disease that leads to growth defects. The ARRA-funded clinical trial will test repeat administration of the mesenchymal stem cells to stimulate and sustain bone growth in children with osteogenesis imperfecta.

Keep the Stories Coming!

I have only mentioned a few of the successes of ARRA-funded projects and initiatives, but we would like to hear more, so that we can share them with the research community, Congress, and the public. Please visit the NIAMS ARRA Chronicles Web page to submit your story.

More information is available at the following Web sites:

Stephen I. Katz, M.D., Ph.D.
National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases
National Institutes of Health
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

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