Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Biomedical science consternation

Today I attended a seminar where the presenter, a fairly well-known, very well funded professor from another university talked about his work on a disease. Most of it consisted of describing animal models for this disease. Basically, that means genetically altering animals, in this case mice, the most common models, to show symptoms of a human disease. You then study the animal, comparing it to "non-diseased" animals, to try and learn something about the disease. It's a reasonably common approach and one that can be quite useful (but not one I use - I don't, and won't, work with animals). Anyway, the ideas behind this guys work were okay, but the actual experiments were shoddy. Full of holes. And yet he has three large grants from the NIH (the government agency that funds most biomedical research in the US). I commented on this to a colleague after the seminar. He agreed that the work was shoddy, but noted that "an animal model for a human disease is almost guaranteed funding nowadays." He's right. And it, really, really irks me. Why? Because shoddy science is pretty much worthless. The data and interpretations have a high likelihood of being wrong. And work done with animal models is very, very expensive. So much of this is wasted. At a time when funding rates (ie the number of grant proposals being funded) at the NIH are at almost historic lows. There are good young academic scientists not able to get funding and consequently being forced out of science. And yet shoddy science can get funded.

Sometimes the system really sucks.

And yet I wouldn't want to be doing anything else.

Sigh.

4 comments:

JollyRgr said...

It's clearly not what you know........

Chin up.....at least you have integrity and pride in your work.

Odyssey said...

That and $3.50 wil buy you a coffee (at Starbucks).

Goose said...

Ah, mouse models! Being a biochemist in a pathology department we hear about lots of them (so good, so not so good). Sadly, mouse-model people seem to think their way is the only way... People from our lab regularly get asked why we do our science backwards (we don't work with animals, so we start with proteins that may contribute to a disease rather that starting with the disease itself)...

Milo said...

i wish i could tell you about some of the shoddy science that gets a big part of industrial budgets...