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Vol. LVIII, No. 13
June 30, 2006

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NIAMS at 20
Basic Research at NIAMS

Dr. John O’Shea  
Many of today's advances in understanding and treating arthritis and musculoskeletal and skin diseases began in laboratories across the United States with research on basic biology supported by NIAMS. Although the benefits of basic research are rarely felt quickly and may not even seem relevant to people coping with diseases, research must be done on fundamental processes to obtain the clues that inform research in humans. For that reason, basic research has been a focus of NIAMS since its beginnings 20 years ago.

“Basic research provides building blocks. It gives us a vocabulary to start conceptualizing why things go right and how they might go wrong.” — Dr. John O’Shea, scientific director
Basic research is often done in systems that are simpler than those of humans so that variables can be manipulated to observe changes in structure and function. Researchers in our intramural labs on campus, for example, studied toadfish to find design and engineering principles behind fast-twitching muscles. Basic NIAMS-supported studies in mice revealed a gene that influences bone density. And institute-sponsored fruit fly investigations led to the likely cause of sporadic basal cell carcinoma of the skin, the most common human cancer. Basic research has often resulted in models of human disease that enable scientists to study mechanisms and potential treatments before they are tried on people.

Whether it's determining the structural basis of virus replication or discovering the inner workings of cytokines, NIAMS is proud of its support for basic research. We have every confidence that over the coming decades, such research will offer hope for millions of Americans with complex and often debilitating diseases of the muscles, skin, bones and joints.