At the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, we view medical science as a circle of discovery. We often call it “bench to bedside”—reflecting how findings from the lab can become the basis for clinical trials. But really, the discoveries don’t always end, and can sometimes begin, at the patient’s bedside.
As researchers, within and outside NIH, we take advantage of the unique collaborations formed between the best scientific minds and the generous patients who join clinical trials in a quest to better human health.
These collaborations, some supported by NIH Bench-to-Bedside awards, enable promising work to travel the circle of discovery, where laboratory findings can spark human trials and then, while trial results go out to the public and the larger research community, those results can also back to the lab researchers, who study the results to refine and form new hypotheses, taking the concept from bench to bedside and back.
Working together, the researchers’ ideas—and their discoveries to prevent, treat, and cure disease—can be greater than the sum of the parts.
For example, since 2006, NIDDK researchers have worked with the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and the University of Maryland to examine the role of dietary sitosterol on lipid, glucose and energy metabolism by implementing nutritional interventions that would address individual genetic factors. The researchers worked with the Amish community of Lancaster County, Penn., to identify and characterize subjects who carry a rare mutation that results in increased levels of sitosterol, the plant equivalent of cholesterol. They’re now analyzing the data, and hope to see changes in metabolism as a result of the nutritional interventions—interventions that could then be translated into nutritional guidance for the general population.
On the research horizon, in 2010, researchers from NIDDK, with colleagues from the National Institute of Nursing Research, the NIH Clinical Center and Beth Israel Medical Center, were awarded a grant to study the biochemical mechanism behind sickle cell crisis pain.
These examples are only a fraction of the immense body of research performed by basic scientists, clinical investigators, and patient volunteers both within NIDDK and in grantee institutions around the country. Their efforts to create and fuel that circle of discovery enable us to make improvements in the health and quality of life of all people.
Bench to bedside, both as a philosophy and as a grant program for NIH researchers and grantees, keeps us focused on our mission, whether we pursue that mission at a laboratory bench or at a patient’s bedside. No one knows precisely where the next big discovery will come from, but by working together we can find that discovery faster—and save more lives.
In good health,
Dr. Griffin P. Rodgers, M.D., M.A.C.P.
Director, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases