The Importance of Basic Research in Medicine
by Bridget Simonson
As a basic scientist performing research in a hospital many of my colleagues and people around me work every day to save people’s lives in a very direct way. I work on a protein involved in cellular pathways in disease and I often wonder whether what I am doing will ever have an impact on people in the medical field. But I love my job and believe that what we do as basic scientists for medicine is just as important and crucial for understanding and treatment of disease as our clinician colleagues. Our job is to answer fundamental questions about life and our surroundings, leading to an increase in information, knowledge and therapeutics available which can be used to help our society and improve our lives.
Curiosity: the biggest drive to medical breakthroughs
Many basic medical science researchers focus specifically on understanding the molecular mechanisms of disease, usually with the end goal of development of therapeutics. By identifying key molecules that lead to disease phenotypes drugs can be developed to specifically target these pathways leading to an increase in potential therapeutics. With the ability to sequence the human genome many groups are now focusing on understanding the genetic background of diseases and the best way to identify and intervene in patients with high risk. While focusing on a particular disease seems to be the progressing trend in basic science, many curiosity driven discoveries have also lead to great medical breakthroughs.
For example Marie Curie’s discovery of radium led to the development of chemotherapy, and more recently Carol Greiders work on telomeres opened up a whole new field of cancer biology. These discoveries were not due to specific interest in developing therapeutics for a specific disease area in medicine, but were instead due to the interest of the researcher in a subject that was broader in outlook. Unfortunately with the current funding environment, this type of research is being funded less often which could greatly harm the medical field in the long run.
Translational research: an important area for medical based science
More recently, translational research has become an important area for medical based science. Translational research is formed through collaborations with clinicians and basic scientists, and leads to a link between the bench and bedside. These collaborations allow researchers to have access to human samples and data, and can lead to more fast paced discoveries. It also allows the clinicians to gain an understanding of what goes into basic science discoveries and drug development. Translational research has an important role to play in medical research , and when used alongside basic science will lead to increased knowledge, discovery and treatment in medicine.
As laboratory techniques become more powerful and increased collaborations with clinicians lead to the ability to use and study more human samples; basic science, drug development and the clinical knowledge of disease is increasing exponentially. So while basic science may not be at the forefront of patient care in an obvious way, without it many of the past advances in medicine and patient care that are used in the clinic every day would not have been made, and healthcare would look very different from how it does now.