Thought Experiment 59: Medical Research

Here's another Question for you. I'd love to know what your answers are!

By controlling medical research funds, you are in the position to guarantee that a cure will be found in 15 years for any disease you choose. Unfortunately, no progress on any others would be made during that period. Would you target one disease? If so, which one and why?

This one would be tough. If I control funds to channel them all to one disease, people who have all the other diseases would come after me with burning brands and pitchforks. But it could mean a cure that we don't have now. I think it would be a great idea, if after finding the cure, we could then do it again with the next disease for 15 years and again find a cure. It would take awhile, but it would be guaranteed success.

But then I have to choose a disease. I would choose something that gave the greatest life return to the most people. For instance, it would probably be something that affects children because they would have the greatest life expectancy after the cure. They would benefit the most. But it would have to affect a significant part of the population. So it would have to be something really common.

Also, I think it would be best to target a disease that kills, or kills over time, as opposed to a disease that can be managed with medication, such as depression, even though that would be awesome to cure.

So I'd have to crunch the numbers to say for sure. Maybe heart disease? Because that would affect people of all ages, and it's one of the top killers, if not number one.

When I was thinking about my answer, I remember hearing on a science podcast recently that science is really scattered and disjointed. Each institution does its own thing. No one coordinates studies or findings. There is no protocol that is implemented so that findings can be combined. (Yes, meta studies are done, but they are often very flawed and unreliable because the data is collected in such diverse ways and under different conditions that aren't really conducive to comparisons with other studies)

What if there were a central data pool? What if great minds pooled the data, saw what had been done, figured out where the gaps were in the current research and suggested new studies that would be really useful, and suggested protocols for studies that would help make them useful to more scientists?

So for example, say my specialty is depression. There would be database for all brain-related research, then mood disorders, etc, so that you could filter the data appropriately. Then once I got to depression research, I could look over a chart to see what has been done, how long ago, what the results were (both positive and negative, instead of the file drawer effect we have now where only positive studies get any attention), and on and on. Then I could see that there is a gap in depression research regarding sunlight/ vitamin D exposure in children. So then I could log in and put my name and research facility in that spot to tell others that's what I'm working on.

When I publish my findings, I'd have them added to this database so that there is a central repository, instead of information scattered all over the place, not working together.

Then other scientists can come along and see that I got promising results in my study so they can do other studies that replicate what I did or do something similar to expand the findings.

It seems like if we had a central repository for research it would be really helpful, and research facilities would make better use of their grants and time.

So what is your answer about the question? And what do you think of my idea?


  1. To a great extent, the "central repository" database for medical scientific research is the National Library of Medicine. If research has been published, it has been catalogued in the NLM database. Internet access to that collection allows medical researchers to find what other researchers are doing fairly quickly. The Library of Congress is also a huge database that anyone can search.

  2. My obvious choice is cancer. As I get older the chances that I get some sort of cancer goes up. It's pure selfishness, but knowing my luck I'd get killed right after getting my anti-cancer vaccine by a falling piano.

  3. Thanks so much, Dee. I didn't realize this. I thought if a study had negative results usually it was just sort of filed and never published.
    But it's good to know there are central repositories. :)

  4. Well, Andrew, you're not alone. I think a lot of people would choose cancer, and there would probably be a slightly personal reason, since it's so common.

    Keep an eye out for those falling pianos! :P

  5. Hmm, I would say AIDS for several reasons. Firstly, there is no really good way to control it. The cocktail of drugs guarantees it eventually becomes immune to treatment. Also, it probably would benefit the most people, especially in areas where modern medicine isn't very prevalent, such as Africa. Lastly, by curing AIDS you would make people less susceptible to disease, which would be useful while you choose your next target.