Basic Research: An Expensive Investment in the Future

 

Basic research is an investment in the future. Though expensive, its costs pale in comparison to the long-term costs of providing health care for the millions of people suffering from currently incurable diseases. Dedicating more money to basic research will one day allow health care providers to shift away from difficult medical treatments — such as radiation and chemotherapy, kidney transplants and dialysis machines, heart transplants and bypass surgery — to a focus on cures.

The ability of the Stowers Institute for Medical Research to discover genes and proteins that provide clues to the origin of diseases depends, in large measure, on the growth of the endowment and its ability to support new scientists and establish additional laboratories.

Biomedical research can open the way to something better. This occurred with the polio vaccine, whose development depended on first understanding the cause of the disease and the three types of poliovirus. MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) is another example of what basic research can do to improve health care. Initially used only in research laboratories to study chemicals in test tubes, it now provides detailed pictures of the body’s interior. As a further example of the role of basic research, some experts in drug development say that 95 percent* of all discoveries leading to new drugs are made outside of the pharmaceutical industry, although most actual drugs are developed by pharmaceutical companies.

 

  • Dr. C. Thomas Caskey, president of the Merck Genome Research Institute, quoted in The New York Times, “10 Drug Makers Join to Find Genetic Roots of Diseases,” April 15, 1999.