A new congressionally mandated report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine supports the need for a funded office that coordinates all autoimmune disease research across the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Despite the quality of research that the NIH produces with regards to autoimmune diseases, there are still major blocks to the NIH’s ability to capitalize on research outcomes. Additionally, the committee noted a lack of a research plan that would provide an overall strategy for all the various institutes and centers.
Autoimmune diseases are chronic, lifelong conditions that can greatly impact quality of life. Occurring when the immune system malfunctions and begins attacking healthy cells and tissues rather than foreign bodies, these disorders have no known cures and can be fatal. Confusing the issue is the fact that there is no consensus on which illnesses are autoimmune disorders with counts ranging from 80 to 150 depending on the source. There is also a lack of long-term population-based epidemiological studies, which would allow for assessing trends, risk factors, and cost of disease, among many other things.
The report “Enhancing NIH Research on Autoimmune Disease” puts forward that, of the five options considered by the committee, the best way to address the NIH’s lack of a strategic approach to autoimmune disease research is the creation of an Office of Autoimmune Disease/Autoimmunity Research. This position would help facilitate cross-NIH collaboration and promote priority setting and implementation. The report also recommends the new office have its own research budget and substantial control over key budgetary decisions.
Finally, the report includes several recommendations for building long-term data collection at the population level as well as numerous other suggestions to strengthen our understanding and research surrounding autoimmune diseases.