When Dina Paltoo, Ph.D., M.P.H., joined the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) in March 2020, she was eager to use her years of extensive scientific and policy experience – much of it honed at NIH – to help guide the Institute's research efforts. But just as she started her job as the assistant director of scientific strategy and innovation in the Immediate Office of the Director, COVID-19 shut down the country. To respond to the growing pandemic, Paltoo immediately got to work leading and coordinating NHLBI’s partners across the nation and within the federal government.
"A nimble, coordinated COVID-19 research approach has been imperative to making progress," Paltoo said. This includes research collaborations and responsibly sharing data.
Nearly a decade ago, Paltoo worked in NHLBI’s Division of Cardiovascular Sciences managing grants being awarded in numerous research areas, including genetics, personalized medicine, health disparities, and translational research. In her new role, and with COVID-19 centerstage, Paltoo has had to navigate a research strategy that addresses the immediate and long-term impact of the disease on the heart, blood, circulatory system, airways, and lungs.
This strategy has multiple layers. It includes preclinical research that assess viral infection; clinical trials that evaluate the safety and effectiveness of therapies; observational studies following patients recovering from COVID-19; community-engaged research that aims to help those most affected by the virus; and resources and data to help scientists study COVID-19 and its long-term impact.
"The pandemic has shown us how quickly researchers, clinicians, and the community can come together in different ways," Paltoo said. Having the privilege of supporting those efforts, she added, has been one of the most inspiring experiences of her career. "Moving forward, I hope we can apply the lessons we’ve learned to how we approach strategies for biomedical research."
The next generation of scientists, Paltoo noted, will have a lot to unpack both from the COVID-19 pandemic and from the scientific advances NHLBI supports each day. But the resources and tools at their fingertips, she added, will be significant. And they will help in the development of personalized treatments, prevention efforts, and new ways to bring scientific discoveries into people’s everyday lives.
Her advice for students thinking about this kind of work: "Be proactive, confident in your abilities, and willing to learn. And be an advocate for yourself and for your interests."
Learn more about Dina Paltoo