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How does research get from the lab in to real world usefulness?

Hi, I’m Dr. Evangelia Tsiani, Associate Professor in the Department of Health Sciences at Brock University and today I’m answering the question, “How does research get from the lab to the real world?” with examples from the health science field.

Lab Research in the Department of Physiology, University of Toronto led by F. Banting and C. Best in 1921 using animals (dogs) resulted in the discovery of insulin that has been used since then to treat patients suffering from diabetes and save millions of lives. The researchers used an animal model of diabetes, the depancreatized dog. Removing the pancreas from a group of dogs resulted in symptoms of diabetes, deterioration of health and eventually death. The researchers then used pancreas from cattle (taken from slaughter house) prepared a pancreatic extract and when injected it into the sick/ dying animals they saw an improvement of health and maintenance of life! Soon, the pancreatic extract was further purified, insulin was extracted and used to treat humans.

The above is just one historic example amid myriad others from the medical/ health science field clearly showing how research from the lab gets to the real world. Drug discovery, synthesis, and testing of effectiveness are all taking place in the lab. Today lab researchers study different diseases and microorganism causing diseases (viruses, bacterial) at the molecular and cellular level using isolated cells (in vitro), as well as animal models (in vivo) of the diseases. If the lab work shows for example that a certain chemical has anticancer properties in cells in vitro (the experiments show that it stops the growth of cancer cells), lab studies will proceed and the chemical will be tested in animal models of cancer. These studies will further examine the effectiveness of the chemical/drug and determine the dose/concentration that gives optimal results and minimum toxicity. Only chemicals/drugs that show clear benefits in lab/ preclinical studies are given approval to be tested in clinical studies in humans.

Chemistry plays a significant role in the development of new materials and applications, such as production of plastic, materials used to build houses, cars, planes, spaceships, cleaning products, cosmetics etc. All these materials are in use by humans thanks to work that took place in the lab.

Similarly lab work in the field of physics gives information regarding forces, aerodynamics, hydrodynamics and much more, which have applications in; building bridges, dams, cars, ships, planes, different machines and so on. Work on particle physics is taking place at CERN, the European organization for nuclear research where theories regarding the origin of the universe are currently being tested using the powerful particle accelerator known as, the Large Hadron Collider. Such information has applications in computing, cryptography, and teleportation/data transfer to name a few. In fact, the World Wide Web was invented at CERN in 1989 and has revolutionized communications worldwide.

Overall, it is the curiosity in human nature that drives lab research, which then translates into progress. Humans have many problems to solve such as find cures for many diseases, save endangered species, find solutions to global warming/ ecosystem disturbances, etc. Without a doubt, some of these problems have been created by humans but it is clear that in order to find solutions we must engage in lab research! Only then, we can gain a deeper understanding of the problem and work towards finding solutions.


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