Working together to understand long-term effects of COVID-19

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) kind of lives between two worlds. We serve the scientific community by providing the resources it needs to conduct research that eases the burden of those living with or at risk for neurological disorders. In this regard, we provide funding, expert guidance, training opportunities, shared resources, partnership with professional organizations and biomedical corporations, and access to shared data and information on best practices.

We also serve the public, particularly those affected by neurological disorders. For example, we provide information, networking workshops, opportunities to participate in research that changes the equations and outcomes for patients and families, and partnership with advocacy organizations and schools. You could say that NINDS is a convener and connector, constantly looking for mechanisms through which scientific research and the lay public can synergize with one another.

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NINDS Aims to Address URGenT Need for Gene Therapies

Recent successes of therapies aimed at replacing, blocking, or changing the reading of genes—referred to as gene therapy—have made real the prospect of improving outcomes for people with rare diseases.  In September 2019, NINDS held a workshop entitled “Next Generation Strategies for Gene-Targeted Therapies of Central Nervous System Disorders” to brainstorm with scientists, pharmaceutical manufacturers, and patient advocates about the best ways of getting these cutting-edge treatments into the hands of doctors and scientists to help improve the lives of patients living with rare diseases.

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Combating Pain and Preventing Addiction

September is Pain Awareness Month. In recognition of this, NINDS Director Walter Koroshetz and National Institute on Drug Addiction (NIDA) Director Nora Volkow have written a blog post highlighting NIH’s efforts to foster research, education, and patient care.

Pain is a symptom, a condition, not a disease.  But do not let this fool you.  Pain is among the most common and most disabling conditions known.  It can be acute (sudden in onset and relatively short-lived) or chronic (long-lasting).  Acute pain, most often with a known cause, sometimes becomes chronic pain.  Often, it is not known why the transition occurs or why the pain persists.

It is estimated that between 20 and 30% of people have been affected by pain that lasted at least 24 hours in the past 6 months.  Pain can afflict anyone at any age.  While scientists have learned a great deal about pain and have developed medications, devices, and techniques that counteract some of the steps in the pathway that leads to initiation, production, and perception of pain, many medications that are effective against pain are addicting and those that are not are ineffective against the most severe and most chronic painful conditions.

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Diversification of the Neuroscience Workforce: Not One Size Fits All

In August 2019, NINDS welcomed more than 35 female Prince George’s County Public School STEM students at the Girls Navigating Neuroscience program (click image to learn more)
Image Credit: Chia-Chi Charlie Chang

Given that the word “diverse” means “made up of many different kinds,” it has always seemed odd to me that we think of the process of diversification in one dimension only. Recent studies have suggested that not only the degree but also the nature of diversification within the biomedical workforce differs among race and ethnicity, gender, level of expertise, and programmatic career focus. There can be no single specific recipe for achieving equity and inclusion; it requires, rather, a living, evolving, and creative cookbook!

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Neuroscience on the NIH Campus and the NINDS Intramural Research Program

So far in this blog, we have talked about two major components of NINDS: the Office of the Director, which oversees and supports everything NINDS does, and the extramural program, which supports research being done in labs throughout the United States and around the world. Here I will discuss a third component to NINDS—our own research program housed on the NIH campus in Bethesda, Md.

John Edward Porter Neuroscience Research Center, NIH Campus, Bethesda, Md.

In many ways, the NINDS Intramural Research Program (IRP) is very much like a research center or the research component of a department at a university medical center elsewhere in the United States. There are principal investigators—doctors and scientists who run laboratories and research clinics that perform basic, translational, and clinical research. These labs also support experienced staff scientists and staff clinicians; post-doctoral fellows—scientists who have finished graduate school but are continuing their training; residents and fellows who are doctors getting more specialized training in neurology or neurosurgery; and graduate and post-baccalaureate students.

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