It has been 25 years since the establishment of the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, and great strides have been made in diagnosis, treatment, and management of numerous conditions, "but you ain't seen nothing yet," said Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health.
Opportunities for medical research have never been as great as they are today, said Dr. Collins, who gave the welcome address for NIAMS' 25th anniversary at the NIH campus in Bethesda, Md.
Although prominent researchers in the field agreed that research has come a long way in the past 25 years, they stressed that there is still a long way to go. Currently, the molecular basis for 4,000 diseases is known, said Dr. Collins. "But we have effective treatment for only 200."
In broad strokes, the day-long event touched on the past, present, and future of major diseases of bones, joints, muscles, and skin through panels and discussion involving prominent researchers, physicians, and patient advocates.
"These diseases are chronic, crippling, and common," said Dr. Stephen Katz, director of NIAMS, in his opening address. "They affect every family in the United States."
Among the attendees were many researchers and clinicians who said they felt loyalty and appreciation for receiving funding from NIAMS at some point in their career. For some, the progress in the past 2 decades was quite tangible.
"Public investment in osteoporosis research has really changed how we take care of the patients," said Dr. Sundeep Khosla, president of the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research. Dr. Khosla, professor at the Mayo Medical School, Rochester, Minn., recalled a time more than 2 decades ago when calcium, vitamin D, and estrogen were the only options he could offer to patients with osteoporosis.
A few years later, bisphosphonates became available, then came anabolic drugs, and now more drugs are in the pipeline. Patient diagnosis also has advanced, he said. Although he agreed that the field still has a long way to go, he was optimistic about more progress. "Who knows what will happen in the next 25 years," he said.
There was talk of individualized therapy, balancing research and treatment, and a closer collaboration among scientists, all in the spirit of bringing better diagnosis and treatment to patients.
"We're in a different world from when all we had was aspirin," said Dr. Daniel Kastner, a scientific director at the National Human Genome Research Institute. "But what we really want is a cure. And we're not there yet."
--Naseem S. Miller (@NaseemSMiller)