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Perspectives on Promoting Scientific Workforce Diversity with Dr. Bruce J. Tromberg

October 28, 2021

I am pleased to introduce to you, our followers, Dr. Bruce J. Tromberg, Director of the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB) at the NIH. In this role, Dr. Tromberg manages a research program portfolio focused on developing, translating, and commercializing engineering, physical science, and computational technologies in biology and medicine.

Dr. Tromberg also leads the Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics Tech and Advanced Technology Platforms (RADx Tech and ATP), established in April 2020 by NIBIB to expand COVID-19 testing capacity, performance, and access.

Dr. Tromberg specializes in the development of optics and photonics technologies for biomedical imaging and therapy. Before joining the NIH in January 2019, Dr. Tromberg was a professor of Biomedical Engineering and Surgery at the University of California, Irvine. During this time, he served as Director of the Beckman Laser Institute and Medical Clinic (BLIMC) and the Laser Microbeam and Medical Program, an NIH National Biomedical Technology Center at the BLIMC.

I spoke with Dr. Tromberg about a new position that will enhance biomedical engineering research on NIH’s campus and advance NIBIB’s diversity, equity, and inclusion agenda, including scientific workforce diversity.

Q: NIBIB recently announced it is recruiting a Director of the new NIH-wide Center for Biomedical Engineering and Technology Acceleration (βETA) and NIBIB Associate Director for Scientific Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Could you begin by talking about this position?

Located in the NIBIB Intramural Research Program, the βETA Center is a new campus model for accelerating the development, validation, and dissemination of high-impact biomedical technologies to address urgent national and global health needs. The Center’s Director will lead a team of scientists and engineers within NIBIB and form research partnerships across NIH and with other public and private stakeholders to collaboratively accelerate technology-driven interdisciplinary research and clinical translation. Diversity, equity, and inclusion are central to this mission. As such, the Center Director will also serve as NIBIB’s Associate Director for Scientific Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and support the mission of the NIH UNITE initiative to end structural racism in the biomedical research enterprise.

The Associate Director will employ evidence-based approaches to enhance inclusive excellence within NIBIB’s Intramural Research Program. The role includes advising and supporting NIBIB senior leadership and staff in the design, implementation, and evaluation of programs to achieve the Institute’s goals for diversity. A nationwide search for this position is now underway; applications are due by December 8, 2021. I encourage readers to distribute the position announcement among their professional networks.

At NIBIB, we anticipate that the work done by the Associate Director will be transformative for the biomedical imaging and bioengineering communities. By partnering and collaborating across the NIH, we can eliminate inequities in the biomedical workforce and build a research culture inclusive of all backgrounds and perspectives.

Q: I would also like to discuss the RADx Tech/ATP programs. How have they accelerated COVID-19 testing capacity in the United States?

The NIH established the RADx initiative in April 2020 to fast-track innovation in the development, commercialization, and implementation of COVID-19 testing technologies. NIBIB leads the initiative’s RADx Tech/ATP programs, which support the development, validation, scale-up and manufacturing of diagnostic tests for use in lab, point-of-care, and at-home settings; another effort is developing an online tool to help schools and businesses design a COVID-19 testing strategy.

The RADx Tech/ATP programs have made significant progress since they began 16 months ago. Our first two calls for proposals resulted in more than 800 applications from academics, startups, and biotech companies both big and small. To date, 45 of these have progressed through the rapid, three-phase review process and received funding and support for clinical studies, manufacturing, and distribution.

RADx Tech/ATP has increased the number of COVID-19 tests in the United States by contributing more than 840 million tests and test products to date, with more than 160 million produced in September 2021. The programs have also led to three COVID-19 tests authorized for over-the-counter use and are supporting a viral RNA test that can be deployed in vans that travel to COVID hotspots.

These are just a few of the many RADx Tech/ATP achievements so far. The programs continue to introduce testing technologies that provide new modes of sample collection, processing, and returning results.

Q: What is the role of scientific workforce diversity in initiatives such as RADx Tech/ATP?

NIBIB is committed to enhancing diversity, equity, and inclusion to achieve the highest level of innovation in biomedical imaging and bioengineering. This commitment extends across all our initiatives, including RADx Tech/ATP. Evidence shows a correlation between diversity and innovation: Teams with various types of diversity outperform those without them, leading to better contributions to science. In practical terms, a diverse workforce considers various approaches and creative strategies when developing new technologies. This is essential for ensuring that medical devices are developed and distributed fairly to everyone.

Q: In what other ways does NIBIB promote workforce diversity?

Our diversity and inclusion efforts are multi-pronged. They include research awards, and I would like to highlight a new funding announcement: RFA-HG-21-041. It seeks R01 grant applications for independent research projects within the scientific mission areas of NIBIB, the NIH National Human Genome Research Institute, and the All of Us Research Program. This opportunity supports early stage investigators and new investigators from groups underrepresented in biomedical science. The application deadline is February 22, 2022. I urge eligible investigators to apply.

Dr. Bernard’s Reflections

Under Dr. Tromberg’s inspired leadership, NIBIB continues to be at the forefront of the COVID-19 response and building a more inclusive biomedical workforce. NIBIB’s new position of βETA Center Director and Associate Director for Scientific Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion is vital to expanding the diversity of NIBIB’s intramural research community and contributing to synergistic activities within the NIH and the entire biomedical research enterprise.