NIH Director Discusses Accelerating Translation of Biomedical Research to the Clinic

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TED, which stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design, is a nonprofit devoted to “Ideas Worth Spreading.”  The annual TED conference brings together some of the world’s most fascinating people to talk briefly about science, business, the arts and global issues facing our world.  TEDMED, an independent event operating under license from the TED conference, is a three day annual conference where cutting-edge science and technology leaders “connect, understand and inspire” to advance the art of health and medicine with new ideas, the latest science and innovative technology.

Francis Collins, MD, PhD, director of the National Institutes of Health, wants to reduce the time it takes to get drugs to market. In support of this goal, early this year the NIH established the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS). NCATS will strive to identify and overcome hurdles that slow the development of effective treatments and cures.

In April 2012 at his TEDMED talk, Dr. Collins discussed two potential methods for getting disease treatments to market faster: repurposing existing drugs and testing drugs on fabricated human tissue as an alternative to often unreliable animal models.

At one point during his talk, Dr. Collins shared the stage with Sam Burns, a ninth-grader from Boston with a rare disease known as Hutchinson-Guilford progeria, an ailment that leads to rapid aging in children.

Dr. Collins also highlighted the Harvard-based Wyss Institute’s lung-on-a-chip, which combines microfabrication techniques with modern tissue engineering to mimick the complicated mechanical and biochemical behaviors of a human lung.

To capitalize on all the discoveries, Collins said the NIH needs resources, new kinds of partnerships between academia, government, the private sector and patient organizations, and talent — the best and the brightest from many different disciplines to join the effort. “This is the 21st century biology that you’ve been waiting for,” Collins told the audience.

About the Author

Walter Jessen, Ph.D. is a Data Scientist, Digital Biologist, and Knowledge Engineer. His primary focus is to build and support expert systems, including AI (artificial intelligence) and user-generated platforms, and to identify and develop methods to capture, organize, integrate, and make accessible company knowledge. His research interests include disease biology modeling and biomarker identification. He is also a Principal at Highlight Health Media, which publishes Highlight HEALTH, and lead writer at Highlight HEALTH.