Henry Winter
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The importance of basic research

Henry Winter
Posted by
31 May 2012

The phrase ‘basic research’ has always seemed to be a slightly dreary, derogatory one, suggesting that it doesn’t match up to the more exciting, headline-grabbing clinical trials and translational studies (which ‘translate’ scientific knowledge into the design of new drugs).

The fact is that basic research is absolutely crucial to saving lives. Almost every new blood cancer drug in recent years has stemmed from breakthroughs in the laboratory. Basic research increases our understanding of how and why blood cancers develop.

Just one of many basic research projects that Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research has funded in the last year is one led by Dr Peter Laslo at the University of Leeds, which is looking at the role of proteins called ‘transcription factors’ in blood cell development. When these proteins malfunction, mutated blood cells can form, leading to leukaemia.

The point of such research is not simply to expand knowledge of leukaemia development as an end in itself, but what this knowledge can lead to. If scientists understand completely how transcription factors fail, new drugs can be designed to target this fault, preventing the creation of leukaemia cells.

The dependence of tomorrow’s breakthrough drugs on today’s basic research is clear, which makes it worrying that some charities and funding bodies are scaling back their funding of these projects.

It can make sense to concentrate on clinical trials and translational studies which deliver more immediate results for patients, especially in this difficult economic climate.  It is important however to not completely cut off the supply-line of future drugs. 

Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research is committed to funding the best basic research, clinical trials and translational studies as part of strategy designed to have the biggest impact on patient benefit, both in the short-term and in the future.