Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Trapped in the Lab

Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Trapped in the Lab

Article excerpt

"Patients Have Been Too Patient with Basic Research" by Ralph M. Steinman with Maia Szalavitz, in Cerebrum (Fall 2002), Dana Press, 900 15th St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20005.

Biomedical researchers, working in laboratories with rats and mice and tissue cultures, have made great strides in the theoretical understanding of human diseases--but benefits to the people suffering from those diseases have not kept pace. The reason? Not enough physician-scientists, who both treat patients and use them in research, contend Steinman, a professor of immunology at Rockefeller University, and Szalavitz, a science writer.

"Historically, medical research was conducted by physicians, but the molecular and cell biology revolution changed that dramatically by the early 1960s," the authors observe. "Since then, even basic research on particular diseases has required specialized skills that most doctors never develop." And most specialized researchers, working at the cellular and molecular levels, are far removed from the bedsides of patients.

Of the 700,000 physicians in the United States today, only 14,000 are scientists working to apply lab discoveries to human disease. Their numbers have declined since 1980, for manifold reasons. It can take 12 to 14 years to become both a physician and a research scientist--far longer than it takes to become just one or the other. The time spent in research training after medical school makes it harder for physicians to pay off their student loans (typically more than $100,000). …

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