I began my tenure at NCCIH with a listening tour to learn about the perspectives of various stakeholders, including researchers, advocates, and skeptics. As a nephrologist, I was first seen as an outsider. However, my experience as a physician caring for patients who were struggling with painful and debilitating symptoms greatly informed my perspective that the status quo was not enough.
It’s been a privilege leading this venture, and I’ve learned a lot since arriving at the Center. NCCIH is doing incredibly important work. Through the years, we have funded important research along the continuum from basic mechanistic studies to pragmatic clinical trials. I am pleased that our research portfolio in mind and body research, and particularly in pain management, has contributed to the development of several clinical practice guidelines for pain. In fact, almost 30 percent of NCCIH’s research portfolio is focused on pain research.
Our focus on pain research is proving essential as our country faces the challenge of the current opioid crisis. This is in large part clearly a pain management crisis. It is my hope that NCCIH-funded research will continue to provide critical knowledge that reduces the number of people living with poorly controlled pain. This is essential. The burden of pain drives much of the misuse of opioids. When public health experts talk about having “all hands on deck” to address the opioid epidemic, researchers of nondrug alternatives to opioids for pain management must be involved. Exploring the efficacy of integrative approaches is an important piece of the puzzle. I see real value in a variety of complementary and integrative approaches to health—some traditional, some not—and an urgent need for new integrative care models that deliver better outcomes.
As I depart NCCIH and return to focus on nephrology, I want to express my appreciation for those who have advanced the work of the Center. We have worked together to find and fund the best science possible, and we have leveraged our resources through collaborations with other NIH institutes and centers, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Department of Defense. I value your contributions.
I leave the Center in good hands—David Shurtleff, Ph.D., will serve as Acting Director, and Wendy Weber, N.D, Ph.D., M.P.H., has agreed to assist as Acting Deputy Director (as well as continuing her work as branch chief in NCCIH’s extramural research division). Our strong intramural program is being ably led by Catherine Bushnell, Ph.D. I am confident that this team will provide excellent leadership going forward.