The NIH Intramural Research Program (IRP) accelerates scientific progress by advancing basic, translational, and clinical research across all fields of biomedical study. Since its inception, the IRP has led some of the most significant scientific breakthroughs of the modern age and continues to operate at the forefront of scientific discovery.
To remain a leading academic center of excellence, and to clearly define the long-term vision for the IRP, we have identified 12 core scientific opportunities for the future. These opportunities were selected following an extensive review process conducted by investigators from across the IRP, and were chosen based on their potential to transform the healthcare field and take advantage of the diversity and scope of the IRP’s cross-disciplinary resources, infrastructure, and scientific expertise:
1. Pioneering Precision Medicine and Disease Prevention
The area of precision medicine is advancing rapidly and holds the exciting potential to redefine how we diagnose and treat individual patients. As the world’s largest multi-disciplinary biomedical research center, the IRP has access to detailed molecular data from diverse patient populations, as well as the capability to analyze that data to define the molecular basis for disease states, identify effective treatment and prevention strategies for different individuals, predict treatment responses, measure disease susceptibility, and predict outcomes.
2. Creating Next-Generation Cell-Based Therapies
Cell-based therapies have the potential to revolutionize the treatment of severe or incurable conditions, from neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) to cancer, type 1 diabetes, and Crohn’s disease. Research conducted within the IRP has propelled the field of cell-based therapy forward, and we are now focused on utilizing our cross-disciplinary expertise to develop safe and effective stem cell and T cell-based treatments to usher in a new wave of next-generation cell-based therapies.
3. Understanding the Microbiome
Increasingly, the microbiome has become one of the most exciting areas of scientific research, with the potential to impact how we understand, diagnose, and treat a staggering number of health conditions. Given the IRP’s synergistic approach, we are ideally placed to combine the research efforts of experts across microbiology, immunology, genomics, and development of animal model systems to advance microbiome science.
4. Combatting Drug Resistance
The emergence of widespread antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is one of the most serious global public health threats of our time. The IRP has a proven track record of success in combatting AMR, and we are committed to mobilizing our resources to develop next-generation antibacterial drugs that target highly drug-resistant pathogens and to create tools that can be used to effectively address outbreaks of multidrug-resistant organisms.
5. Unlocking the Potential of RNA Biology and Therapeutics
The IRP is dedicated to taking a leadership role in the development of a comprehensive program for the investigation and therapeutic exploitation of RNA, including modalities such as antisense RNA, RNA interference, and RNA silencing. Building on the IRP’s strong foundation in RNA biology, our goal is to systematically map the RNAome in health and disease and identify new clinical targets for RNA-based therapeutics.
6. Leading the Development of New Vaccines
To date, the IRP has contributed to approximately half of FDA-approved vaccines currently in general use. Of note, pioneering research conducted by IRP investigators has led to the development of the first rotavirus and hepatitis A vaccines – and most recently, the creation of effective vaccines against human papilloma virus (HPV). As a recognized leader in the field of vaccine research, we are ideally placed to lead the advancement of effective vaccines for HIV, malaria, tuberculosis, and cancer.
7. Accelerating Neuroscience Research
Neuroscience research has always been a priority for the IRP. Over the years, we have led the development of high-resolution imagining techniques to more effectively map and study the brain, identified genetic mutations associated with Parkinson’s disease, advanced potential treatments for multiple sclerosis, and improved our understanding of mental issues such as depression and anxiety. Following the announcement of the 2013 Presidential BRAIN Initiative, the IRP has committed even more resources to advancing research across the field of neuroscience. Building on that commitment, we are uniquely positioned to bring together research and resources from various IRP programs to address and alter our understanding of the human brain.
8. Mapping the Inflammatory Process to Better Understand Disease
Inflammation is a key underlying symptom of countless diseases – and, with the IRP’s cohort of world-class immunologists, rheumatologists, and cancer biologists, we are in a unique position to continue to make significant contributions to the characterization and control of the inflammatory process. Research that will uncover methods to reduce inflammation can have a major impact across the spectrum of human health.
9. Developing Novel Clinical and Molecular Imaging Techniques
Over the next ten years, the IRP has laid out a plan to revolutionize the field of clinical and molecular imaging through the development of new targeted probes, novel approaches for brain imaging, new non-invasive measurements, and rapid three-dimensional microscopic imaging. Our world-class investigators are also developing state-of-the-art techniques to visualize molecules at the cellular level, which promises to be an area that will deliver significant contributions to the field of molecular imaging in the coming years.
10. Advancing Computational and Structural Biology and Tools
The IRP is increasingly taking advantage of new high-throughput, data-intensive technologies to advance its work, with investigators in genomics, computational chemistry, molecular modeling, structural biology, biomedical imaging, proteomics, and metabolomics generating ever-larger data sets. Success in these areas depends on our ability to employ computationally intensive approaches to produce interpretable results that advance translational efforts aimed at improving human health. The IRP is continuing to establish strong leadership in this area, aggressively expanding its computational biology program and its high-performance computing resources in a way that will allow the IRP to jump-start major initiatives and enable true innovations in biomedical computing.
11. Uncovering New Opportunities for Natural Products
Products derived from plants and animals in nature have formed the basis for some of the most important scientific discoveries of our time, and scientists believe that many of the solutions to issues such as antimicrobial resistance, infectious diseases, and malnutrition will be found in natural compounds. The IRP is committed to creating a national program focused on the discovery of new natural molecules that target biological processes central to human disease, including the development of a comprehensive natural products library that is accessible to all researchers and academics.
12. Expanding and Refining Animal Modeling
The development and use of effective animal models is central to understanding the mechanisms behind disease, the discovery of viable therapeutic compounds, and the progression of drug candidates from the lab and into the clinic. As a fundamental component of all research, we are committed to expanding animal models to mimic new diseases, to utilizing new and existing models to assess potential vaccines and therapeutics, and to creating a CRISPR core for the creation of novel transgenic models.
The 12 scientific opportunities above form the basis of the IRP’s long-term research strategy. Over the coming decades, we will continue accelerating biomedical research to reach breakthroughs that will contribute to all people living longer, healthier, and happier lives.