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Nobel laureate Tom Südhof makes the case for basic science

When Stanford neuroscientist and Nobel laureate Tom Südhof, MD, began his education, he intended to become a practicing physician. But, as my colleague once reported, Südhof came to believe that conducting fundamental research about the body and diseases could be "more productive than if I spent a lot of my time in the clinic."

In the Washington Post yesterday, Südhof made a compelling argument about the importance of such research and outlined how our failure to invest in a basic understanding of diseases has led to a lag in treatments for many diseases. He explained:

Understanding the mechanisms of a disease is essential for developing an effective treatment. For example, we don’t know why people lose their memory in Alzheimer’s disease or why an autistic child has difficulty communicating. But we won’t be able to solve these mysteries without learning more about the underlying biology of memory and communication. To find out what goes wrong when a person become sick, we need to know how things work.


Some people see a focus on basic research as insistence on wastefully pursuing knowledge for its own sake. That assessment is false. Basic research provides the underpinnings for any understanding of disease, so we need to reassess how we spend our precious funds for development of therapies.

Previously: #NextGreatDiscovery: Exploring the important work of basic scientistsThe lure of research: How Nobel winner Thomas Südhof came to work in the basic sciences, Stanford's Thomas Südhof wins 2013 Nobel Prize in Medicine and Funding basic science leads to clinical discoveries, eventually
Photo by Steve Fisch

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