Clinical trials and translational medicine have certainly given people hope and rapid pathways to cures for some of mankind’s most troublesome diseases, but now is not the time to overlook the power of basic research, says UC Santa Barbara neuroscientist Kenneth S. Kosik.
In fact, as he points out in an article published in the journal Science — along with coauthors Terry Sejnowski, Marcus Raichle, Aaron Ciechanover and David Baltimore — supporting fundamental cell biology research into neurodegeneration may be the key to accelerating understanding of neurodegenerative and so-called “incurable” diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
“My point here is that what we really have to do is take the longer view and get a very fundamental understanding of these diseases to make inroads in treatment,” said Kosik, who is UCSB’s Harriman Professor of Neuroscience in the Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, and also the director of the campus’s Neuroscience Research Institute.
In contrast to applied science which, in the field of neuroscience and medicine, concentrates more on therapies and technologies used to treat particular conditions, basic research into cell biology of neurodegeneration is the discipline that fuels understanding of why and how the basic living units of the brain and nervous system function, or don’t. Studying a model organism such as a fruit fly or a worm may not have the more visible impact on neurodegenerative disease that human clinical trials have, Kosik said, but it could provide a strong foundation for treatments that go beyond single diseases, and that may generate tools for early detection and prevention. Without building a foundation of basic science, he argues, scientists can find themselves down the path of pursuing “trendy” and sometimes fruitless research, or grasping at straws for safe, but relatively ineffective therapies.
“All funders — and scientists too — feel the pressure …