Discovery and Disease Control

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  • National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Bethesda, Maryland

Basic research often does not lead to an immediate solution to problems. Furthermore, applications of major discoveries may take years and may develop in unpredictable ways. Why then do funding agencies and foundations expect a product in the short term? In response to this expectation, scientists and science administrators promise results in the short term and are later criticized for not producing the goods. Even in so-called applied areas of disease control, we usually cannot predict when the next major advance will occur. To some in the endemic areas, it is difficult to justify basic research in the face of major health problems, as basic research cannot give a timetable for when it will make things better. However, where there are no known solutions or only partial or expensive control measures, research, slow and unpredictable as it may be, is the only hope. This is surely the case in malaria.

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