By David Chao, PhD, President and CEO
Basic biomedical researchers seek answers to fundamental questions about how living organisms develop and function. In addition to increasing our fundamental understanding, some of these discoveries become starting points for developing new medical applications, often in unexpected ways.
In many cases, understanding a disease requires first understanding the details and principles underlying a normal biological process. With this understanding, scientists can more readily determine what cellular and molecular changes lead to disease. This broader intellectual foundation enables the rational pursuit of new approaches to identify abnormalities, fix them or even prevent them from occurring in the first place.
This issue of the Stowers Report focuses on how basic biomedical research is essential to the development of new and better approaches for improving human health. The cover story highlights several Stowers research programs that have particular relevance to cancer, a disease afflicting millions of patients around the world.
Cancer is a group of diseases characterized by uncontrolled cell growth and the potential to spread to other locations within the body. Using model organisms, Stowers researchers investigate biological processes frequently affected in cancer, such as cell division, differentiation, and migration. Clarifying how genes and molecular pathways contribute to these normal processes helps researchers determine what is abnormal about them in cancer and ultimately provides the intellectual foundation for diagnostic, therapeutic, and preventative strategies.
History has shown that scientists’ desire to understand how cells and molecules work at the most basic level has accelerated the development of new therapies in undeniable and unpredictable ways. For instance, in the 1980’s, studies of mating in baker’s yeast identified a molecular pathway that is now the target for drugs to treat human melanoma, including one under development by BioMed Valley Discoveries (BVD). Likewise, the study of infected wounds in the 1920’s led to the isolation of a strain of bacteria that is now the basis for BVD’s experimental therapy to treat solid tumors.
Several decades ago, Jim and Virginia Stowers each had personal experiences with cancer that gave them first-hand exposure to the medical technologies and treatments available at the time. Although they emerged as cancer survivors, both had gained a deeper understanding of the difficulties faced by cancer patients and contemplated the best approach to fight the disease.
Mr. and Mrs. Stowers were confident in their belief that a long-term investment in basic research would ultimately have a significant impact on the fight against cancer and other diseases. To ensure the sustainable pursuit of their vision, they created a group of interlinked organizations in American Century Investments, the Stowers Institute for Medical Research, and BioMed Valley Discoveries, Inc. Their philanthropy has resulted in connectivity at an exceptional and unprecedented scale. Since the year 2000, the Institute’s ownership stake in American Century has yielded over $1 billion in dividends that support research at the Institute and BVD. Mr. and Mrs. Stowers created and bonded together a set of organizations that ultimately connect the lives of millions – from those who invest at American Century, to those who work at the three organizations, and ultimately to those who might someday benefit from the work.
I hope you enjoy the articles that follow as another installment in the ongoing story of our work to achieve Jim and Virginia’s magnificent vision.