Anyone who was around in the 1950s remembers how the Cold War tension between the United States and then-Soviet Union seeped into everyday life. There was the growing threat of nuclear war, conflict in Korea, and an ideological clash that played out in politics, the media and popular culture.
Space became another dramatic stage for this competition. In the United States, the race to this new frontier accelerated STEM education, satellites, accurate weather forecasting and a slew of other technological advances.
While I can’t say we live in a world less divided by political discord, I do see opportunity for important—and more collaborative—advances in today’s global science race: medical research.
For individual nations, a strong research base drives better health by turning findings into improved therapies. New knowledge inspires the next generation of researchers and inventors. Innovation in biomedical and health research creates companies and jobs, which boosts the economy. And when people are healthy, they have happier, more fulfilling lives.
These are the idealized results of research, and if we’re going to realize them more universally, we need to integrate and organize research efforts—not just within a country’s borders, but through global cooperation.
Diseases manifest differently in different countries, and lessening their impact and stopping their spread can be derailed by social stigmas, discrimination and government policies. Therefore, in-country scientists can add important context and compassion as they apply research in their specific environment.
The only way we’ll truly decrease the global burden of disease, however, is by understanding why it occurs. Big Data will help us do that. We can’t underestimate the impact reliable research data will have on health and health care. However, this is going to require researchers and institutions around the world to manage very large, very complex data sets.
We also need data gathered from across diverse communities so we can develop and tailor therapies for specific individuals. The more high-quality data we have on diseases and related genetic and lifestyle factors, the better we’ll be able to target treatment with more precision. But we’ll only learn that by having study populations that represent everyone.
Additionally, science today is changing rapidly and becoming more complex, so no single researcher or single research site can bring all the expertise we need to develop medical innovations and ensure their safety.
Collaborative research—conducted by scientists from around the world and applied to diverse patient populations—holds the promise for tomorrow’s improved health.
To truly win the medical research race, we have to think broader, and we have to dream bigger. The prize will be improved health and wellbeing of people and communities everywhere.