Other NIGMS Fact Sheets
How do cells talk to each other?
What controls gene activity?
How do proteins shape themselves so they can work properly?
Why should we care?
Understanding how life works may not have an immediate impact on our health. But over time, this sort of study—called basic research—paves the way for a wealth of medical advances. By uncovering the cellular or molecular changes involved in diseases, basic research points to approaches for prevention or treatment. Basic and other types of research also provide jobs, stimulate the launch of new companies and help the U.S. maintain its global competitiveness.
Much of the nation's basic biomedical research is made possible by funding from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), a part of the National Institutes of Health.
The goal of basic research is broad—to learn the biological rules of life.The applications of basic research are similarly wide-ranging, including:
Sometimes, basic research has unexpected applications. For example, studies on how viruses infect bacteria led to the discovery of restriction enzymes, a cornerstone of the biotechnology industry. Research on how electric fields affect bacteria led to an important cancer medicine, Cisplatin. Another cancer drug, VelcadeTM, grew out of studies on a cellular garbage disposal system.
Some basic research spinoffs are nonmedical, such as:
Basic research provides an impressive return on investment. Regardless of what measure is used—reduced health care costs or increased productivity from longer, healthier lives—every dollar spent on basic research yields returns ranging from $10 to more than $80.
Start with creative investigators. Give them laboratory equipment and other resources, plus time and the freedom to pursue their curiosity. Await the advance of knowledge—usually as insights that add pieces to solving a scientific puzzle, occasionally as breakthrough discoveries.
These days, biomedical research is often a team activity. Groups of investigators, including scientists in training, work together to answer important scientific questions. Researchers with different skills and expertise may collaborate to tackle especially complex challenges.
Simple organisms also play key roles in research. At the molecular level, organisms like bacteria, fruit flies and mice are very similar to people. The cells of all living creatures make fuel, build proteins, transport materials and dispose of wastes. And we all use similar genetic and biochemical strategies to accomplish these tasks. Understanding these similarities allows researchers to learn about human biology by studying the life processes of well-characterized "model organisms."
A strong testament to the far-reaching impact of basic research comes from the Nobel Prizes. These prestigious honors recognize people working in specific fields who, as specified in Alfred Nobel's will, "have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind."
NIGMS has a long history of supporting Nobelists. In almost every year since the Institute was created, at least one of the laureates in physiology or medicine or in chemistry received research funding from NIGMS. A list of NIGMS-supported Nobelists is at /pages/GMNobelists.aspx.
Among the advances that scientists have made with NIGMS support are:
Some promising avenues of basic research include:
NIGMS is a part of the National Institutes of Health that supports basic research to increase our understanding of biological processes and lay the foundation for advances in disease diagnosis, treatment, and prevention. For more information on the Institute's research and training programs, seehttps://www.nigms.nih.gov.
Content reviewed November 2012
This page last reviewed on
6/14/2018 10:21 AM
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