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Director’s Corner

Jan. 28, 2016: A New Year’s Resolution for Accelerating Progress in Translational Science

Christopher Austin

Some of the most common New Year’s resolutions are health-related, and NCATS is no exception — but we aim for resolutions that will be more durable than average, since evidence shows that most resolutions are broken by February! 2016 began on a wonderful note, with a fiscal year budget boost from Congress that will help greatly in our efforts to translate scientific discoveries into tangible interventions that improve human health. A few NCATS resolutions follow to presage an exciting year ahead.

Our first New Year’s resolution is to expand successful initiatives, such as our Tissue Chip for Drug Screening program. Since the launch of this program in 2012, collaborating researchers have successfully developed tissue chips representing over a dozen organs and are now working to integrate them into multi-organ systems. The next step will be to establish testing centers where researchers can use select groups of compounds and drugs to validate the tissue chips’ performance in mimicking drug responses in humans. This testing will bring the tissue chip program closer to the goal of creating therapeutic development models that more accurately reflect human physiology and thus serve as more reliable testing systems to determine safety and efficacy of new compounds.

NCATS also resolves to continue building local, collaborative and network capacity in the Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSA) Program. Following up on our 2015 funding opportunity announcements, we plan to issue new awards this year to support greater quality and efficiency in multisite clinical research, improved clinical trial recruitment, and collaboratively developed approaches toward accelerating the clinical and translational research process.

Another 2016 NCATS resolution is to ramp up research on rare diseases, through collaborative efforts to study the commonalities and underlying molecular causes across related disorders. Rare diseases are devastating and costly for patients, families and the nation as a whole, partly due to the severity of these conditions but also because diagnosis can be difficult and is often possible only well after symptoms have appeared. Our new approach to rare diseases research, including our flagship Rare Diseases Clinical Research Network, promises to accelerate the pace of progress in rare diseases.

Brand-new initiatives are on the horizon as well, including 3-D bioprinting of human tissues for drug screening and increasing access to compounds and toxicity data to make identification of new therapeutics easier and more predictable.

We’re already working on our resolutions, and we expect 2016 to be an exciting year for NCATS! Please stay in touch to learn more about and take part in our transformation of translational research as we work to get more treatments to more patients more quickly.

Christopher P. Austin, M.D.
National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences