Research via basic science
Paul B. Rothman, dean of the Medical Faculty and CEO of Johns
Hopkins Medicine, US, on how basic sciences can encourage
At the foundation of any pioneering medical institute, should be research.
Interdisciplinary, innovative and pioneering investigations create a path for
excellence and ensure that the practice of medicine constantly advances.
The opening of the Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1889, followed four years later
by the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, ushered in a new era in
medicine, integrating research with its instruction and practice.
To move ahead, we need to heavily support basic sciences and encourage
future generations of biomedical researchers. We need to understand the
underlying mechanisms that give rise to disease. For example, idiopathic (of
unknown cause) pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), a fatal disease that causes scarring
and stiffening of the lungs, affects about 1,28,000 people in the United
States, with nearly 50,000 new diagnoses each year.
It turns out some cases of IPF may be caused by telomere shortening,
the shortening of the ends of chromosomes.
We would not know about that phenomenon had Carol Greider, a
molecular biologist at Johns Hopkins and a Nobel Prize winner, not
discovered in 1984 the telomerase enzyme that keeps chromosome
ends long, while studying the organism Tetrahymena. That mechanism
was not only fundamental to one-celled pond dwellers, but to all living
organisms, including humans. Though there is no cure yet for IPF, we
have more answers for patients and possible targets for drug discovery
to someday treat the disease. Discoveries like this take a long time and
require continued funding so that future generations can reap benefits.
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