New report says NIH should create an Office of Autoimmune Disease Research

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The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine supports the enhancement of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) research on autoimmune disease and as a result, recommends the NIH create a new Office of Autoimmune Disease/Autoimmunity Research.

According to the new congressionally mandated report, “Enhancing NIH Research on Autoimmune Disease,” there are major barriers to NIH’s current ability to maximize the outcomes of its research. These barriers include varying approaches to the institutes’ and centers’ strategic plans regarding autoimmune diseases and the absence of a research plan that provides an overall NIH strategy for autoimmune diseases. In short, the report found that the NIH lacks a comprehensive, transparent, and strategic approach to how it plans and evaluates progress made on autoimmune disease research.

The report provided five options for enhancing autoimmune disease research and expected outcomes. It concluded that the best option for addressing these challenges would be for the director of NIH to create an Office of Autoimmune Disease/Autoimmunity Research within the director's office. Other options in the report included increasing funding for autoimmune research, enhancing coordination options, establishing a Health and Human Services Autoimmune Disease Coordinating Committee, and creating a congressionally mandated national autoimmune disease and autoimmunity plan.

However, a new Office of Autoimmune Disease/Autoimmunity Research, according to the report, would facilitate cross-NIH multidisciplinary collaboration and stimulate innovation around autoimmune disease research; engage in priority setting, strategic planning, and implementation; budget for and allocate available research funds in alignment with the strategic plan; work with institutes and centers to coordinate, manage, evaluate, and report on research efforts; communicate with key stakeholders; and provide visible leadership on autoimmune disease research. The report’s authors – members of the Committee for the Assessment of NIH Research on Autoimmune Diseases - recommend that this new office have its own research budget and control certain key budgetary decisions in order to increase and strengthen collaborative efforts and accelerate research.

In addition, the report recommended that NIH provide funding and support for a national research agenda that include priorities such as:

  • Dissecting heterogeneity across and within autoimmune diseases to decipher common and disease-specific pathogenic mechanisms
  • Studying rare autoimmune diseases and develop supporting animal models
  • Defining autoantibodies and other biomarkers that can diagnose and predict the initiation and progression of autoimmune diseases
  • Determining the biologic functions of genetic variants and gene-environment interactions within and across autoimmune diseases using novel, cutting-edge technologies
  • Examining the role of environmental exposures and social determinants of health in autoimmune diseases across the life span;
  • Determining the impact of coexisting morbidities, including co-occurring autoimmune diseases and complications of autoimmune diseases, across the life span, and develop and evaluate and interventions to improve patient outcomes
  • Fostering research to advance health equity for all autoimmune disease patients.

“NIH research has contributed significantly to advances in care of autoimmune disease, and it is important to continue to translate this knowledge into more precise diagnostic criteria and clinical interventions to achieve the best outcomes and benefit the lives of our patients,” said Bernard Rosof, MD MACP, professor, Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell, and committee chair in a statement. “Due to the number and complexity of autoimmune diseases, achieving this requires a concerted, strategic effort that leverages the many research activities across NIH’s institutes and centers.”

The study was sponsored by the NIH. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine are private, nonprofit institutions that provide independent, objective analysis and advice to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions related to science, technology, and medicine.