Needed: a quantum leap

Bill Snyder
Published: January, 2009

Illustration by Antonello Silverini
One of the great transformational moments in biomedical science is happening right now.

It’s the shift from gene to cell.

“I think what we’re seeing in this century now is a renewed appreciation for not DNA… but cells as being the secret to life,” says Harvard stem cell researcher Douglas Melton, Ph.D.  “We’ll see what I might call a more synthetic biology, using information obtained from DNA to think about how cells work, about physiology and how our bodies work.”

Richard Caprioli, Ph.D., who directs Vanderbilt’s Mass Spectrometry Research Center, thinks a lot about the cell, too. But for him, it’s metaphorical.

“I don’t think we as scientists are really going to make huge innovations in understanding until we integrate just like the cell does,” Caprioli says.

Richard Caprioli, Ph.D., director, Mass Spectrometry Research Center
Photo by Joe Howell
Some of U.S. science today is “too highly focused,” he says. “We all have our own expertise, jargon and acronyms generally not understood by non-experts in a particular field. We need to work much closer together to achieve a quantum leap from where we are.”

This transformation must include the entire scientific enterprise, Caprioli asserts, from the university research lab to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and even to industry.

Lens magazine asked Caprioli and other scientists at Vanderbilt and throughout the country to brainstorm ideas for revitalizing the nation’s biomedical research enterprise.

Their suggestions may surprise you.

Stop yo-yo funding

Continued support of the NIH is essential, but simply increasing its budget will not solve the problems facing U.S. science. What’s needed instead is stable funding, a budget that does not wobble up and down in response to the vagaries of the political system.

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