In September 2012, a group of IAAM volunteers were invited to tour the National Institute of Arthritis and Muscoloskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). In addition to touring the facilities, we were incredibly fortunate to have a private, personalized tour of the labs, led by Dr. John O’Shea and Dr. Richard Siegel, two of the most prominent arthritis and autoimmune scientists in the United States.
Please welcome our very first guest post written by Tami Brown, IAAM Co-Founder, as she details this experience.
When I finally reached D.C. after the long day of travel, frankly I was seeing visions of that nice comfy bed and big fluffy pillows waiting for me in the hotel. But as soon as the texts began flying back and forth between all the IAAM’ers sharing our coordinates, the excitement set in, along with a shot of adrenaline.
Pain or no pain, I was stoked for that meet-up we had in the hotel bar, where we prepared for the morning’s tour of NIAMS/NIH. Oh, and getting to meet several new IAAM friends face-to-face for the first time? Well, that was the icing on the cake.
The morning was a blur of showering and dressing and rushing to catch our cabs (we had to take two because there were too many of us for one) to get to Union Station. And wouldn’t you know, we couldn’t find each other upon arrival at Union Station, and everyone was playing phone tag, so things got a little nerve-wracking, but eventually we met up and found our way to the right train. Getting off at the stop of NIAMS/NIH was nothing short of amazing. We joked that the escalator going up from the subway to the NIAMS/NIH Campus looked like “The Stairway to Heaven!” It went almost straight upwards…like, forever! LOL. But once we finally arrived at the top of the stairs, we were greeted by our tour guides, Brandon Brough and Sara Wilson Rosario, who graciously led us through the campus tour, giving us tons of great information about NIAMS and putting up with all of our excited questions.
Greetings and introductions to the fantastically prepared NIAMS and NIH staff!
The tour itself was mind-blowing! I had no idea there was even an in-patient facility at the NIH, let alone one that was so well equipped and staffed. And the sheer number of research laboratories in the facility was astounding.
We toured the Bariatrics floor as they cannot allow tours to any floor where patients have compromised immune systems.
Dr. O’Shea, Dr. Seigel, and members of their staff gave us an overview of their current research.
Just learning about the hospital and the research labs and the work that is done there during the presentation would have been more than I could have asked for, but actually being able to walk through a hospital ward and then being taken into Dr. Siegel and Dr. O’Shea’s laboratories while they described current research to us?THAT was beyond amazing.
Discussing the human genome with Dr. O’Shea
Viewing slides showing inflammation through the microscope with Dr. Seigel
Both Dr. O’Shea and Dr. Siegel were so down-to-earth and easy to talk to. They talked to us about work they have done on autoimmune diseases and medications used to treat them. They explained the entire process of creating a drug to target, for instance, the inflammation of RA, by beginning at the cellular level, with the cytokines, where the disease itself has its origin. But they explained everything in terms we could all relate to, and we were even able to see some live examples of many of the things they described in the lab!
Overall, this had to be up there as one of those”once-in-a-lifetime” experiences that I am going to remember forever and one which will always be revered. I feel so honored to have been given the opportunity to tour NIAMS/NIH and I know that I myself and IAAM benefitted so much from the information we learned there!
What the other IAAM’ers had to say:
Tiffany Westrich, IAAM Founder and CEO, describing our initial meetup:
“IAAM is a professional organization that thrives because we plan, then follow through with the actions set forth in those plans. The night prior to the tour and meeting, I had created an agenda to review with all participants, including a background on those we would be meeting and what they wanted to learn from us. After review, we discussed what questions we would ask, who would ask them, and what we wanted to gain from the meeting. However, in this midst of the work, in true IAAM form, it was mixed with laughter and genuine friendship. We carried that enthusiasm and excitement to the tour, which in one word was fascinating. I don’t think I’ll ever forget walking into the conference room and seeing the slideshow prepped, which included IAAM’s name in conjunction with NIAMS. But it could have been when I heard both Dr. O’Shea and Dr. Seigel use the term ‘Autoimmune Arthritis’ in their presentations that was my biggest personal high! Scientists and researchers have used that term since the 1980′s, but it took IAAM to locate it and publicize it in 2009 for it to go mainstream. Hearing it used by the true originators to those who brought the term into the public and officially defined it, it felt like a big circle had come to fruition.”
Amanda John, IAAM Co-Founder, on our NIH tour:
“I was impressed by the sheer size and scope of both the hospital and the research labs. Our tour guide explained the “bench to bedside” philosophy that they work under; 224 clinical beds adjacent to labs so that scientists and patients are able to closely interact. Imagine being an autoimmune arthritis patient in a bed there; your blood samples would be walked directly to the labs that created biologics.”
Therese, IAAM Representative, on the presentation given by Dr. O’Shea and Dr. Siegel
“Sitting at the presentation and slide show of our Autoimmune Arthritis diseases really hit home when we got to see first hand what researchers have come to conclude & continue to study on “inflammation and human cells”. It was amazing to learn and actually see on the slide presentation the actual process on inflammation. To learn about the cell-signaling protein, “Cytokine”, that is secreted to suppress the immune system in response to the inflammation produced by Autoimmune diseases, made you able to connect all of this to our own body’s, medications and AA disease. It made us understand even more the reason behind the biologics that are so greatly needed in controlling our disease.”
Kelly, IAAM Representative, on our personal lab tour with Dr. O’Shea and Dr. Siegel
“It was amazing to see how they are researching how our diseases work and the complex manner in which they were studying and collecting data on their research. My main observation was that our diseases are a big deal and people are working vigilantly to understand how to make us better.”
Stay tuned: coming up next, how YOU can be involved with World Autoimmune Arthritis Day!
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