A different perspective

David Litchfield

David Litchfield shares his view on why this may be one of the best times to perform and support biomedical research

A considerable amount of recent media attention has been focused on challenges being faced by the biomedical research community that relate to research funding. While these challenges are not insignificant, this attention has been overshadowing excitement related to the rapid emergence of unimaginable new technologies and an explosion of information that has accompanied these technologies.

Like the communications revolution that has coincided with the development of smartphones and the Internet, dramatic technological advances in the biomedical and life sciences have accelerated the pace of discovery and set the stage for transformative changes in areas such as health care, environmental remediation, as well as food and energy production.

Across the biomedical sciences, technological advances have changed the way research is conducted, revealing important new insights regarding fundamental biological processes and the underlying basis of human disease and, in many instances, making the impossible possible.

One striking example of transformative technological advances is in the field of genomics.

The Human Genome Project, an international initiative to determine the entire DNA sequence that represents the blueprints for the human race, was completed in 2003 at a cost of nearly $3 billion and more than a decade of intense effort.

By comparison, an entire human genome can now be sequenced in about a day at a cost of only a few thousand dollars with expectations that both the time and cost of DNA sequencing will continue to decrease.

A natural consequence of this ongoing transformation is that hundreds of thousands of human genome sequences have already been completed with many of these sequences available in publicly accessible databases.

These databases represent a wealth of information and are promoting discovery across the research community—even for researchers without access to the most up-to-date DNA sequencing technologies. Specific mutations associated with individual diseases are now being discovered at unprecedented rates. By enabling the identification of specific disease causing mutations, advances in genome sequencing have spawned precision medicine, an emerging strategy for the prevention and treatment of disease that is guided by the precise genomic profile of an individual.

Transformative advances of similar magnitude are occurring in fields across the biomedical and life sciences.

The ever-expanding arsenal supporting the biomedical research community now includes robotic instrumentation with exquisite precision, analytical instrumentation with unprecedented sensitivity, microscopes with digital cameras that record the movements of living cells with spectacular resolution, high-performance computers for data analysis or simulations that aid in experimental design, and the know-how to use remarkably precise genome editing strategies to create or correct diseasecausing mutations within the genomes of experimental models.

By embracing these unimaginable technologies, there has never been a better time to perform—or support— biomedical research.