What more can research organisms tell us?
Scientists continue to work toward understanding all of the molecular processes that underpin human biology and health. They are currently using research organisms to see how these animals fix damaged pieces of DNA, regenerate missing or injured body parts, and pass certain genetic changes to their offspring.
Studying research organisms can also help reveal molecular changes that are associated with diseases and show the connections between certain diseases that seem unrelated.
How are computer models used?
Computers can serve as virtual laboratories that advance biomedical knowledge in areas such as infectious disease spread and drug interactions in the body. With virtual labs, scientists can perform experiments that are difficult to do in actual labs. They also can quickly identify factors that are important to include in lab-based experiments. Researchers use computer simulations to track biological processes in cells and research organisms. This allows them to computationally test, for example, the possible effects of drugs on those processes. The drugs that seem the most promising can then be studied in living cells or organisms.
Because the computer models are so complex, researchers need to use high-performance computers. Often, these computers run for weeks at a time, generating millions of different possible outcomes.
No single set of results or single computer model can accurately predict an outcome. Therefore, researchers often ask the same questions using different models. When multiple models yield similar results, scientists have more confidence in the predictions.
Can computer models replace research organisms?
Computer models have limits. Researchers create them based on what they already know about a process or disease. Scientists use information and data gained from real-world experiments to enhance computer models and predictions to help design additional experiments. Thus, computer modeling and lab experiments go hand in hand—both are needed to advance our understanding of health.