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biomedical research

Driving Innovation and Creativity with High Risk Research

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Girl in a lab

Caption: One of the many faces of NIH-supported innovation, Stanford’s Christina Smolke is exploring how synthetic biology and microbes can be used to produce new drugs. She is a 2012 Pioneer Award winner.
Credit: Linda Cicero/Stanford News Service

High-risk research isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s for fearless researchers who envision and develop innovative projects with unconventional approaches that, if successful, may yield great leaps in our understanding of health problems and/or biological mechanisms. It takes nerve and creativity to conceive such projects—and, often, special support to bring them to fruition.  And, as the name implies, there is a significant chance of failure.


One Nation in Support of Biomedical Research?

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Graph of % change in scientific R&D spending from 2012 to 2013 in China (15%), Germany (5%), S. Korea (5%), Canada (-3%), and U.S. (15%)“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Until recently, we’d never have dreamed of mentioning the famous opening line of Charles Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities in the context of U.S. biomedical research. But now those words ring all too true.

The “best of times” reflects the amazing technological advances and unprecedented scientific opportunities that exist right now. We’ve never had a better chance to make rapid progress in preventing, diagnosing, and curing human disease. But the “worst of times” is the other reality: NIH’s ability to support vital research at more than 2,500 universities and organizations across the nation is reeling from a decline in funding that threatens our health, our economy, and our standing as the world leader in biomedical innovation.


Celebration of Science

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Biomedical research has had a major positive impact on nearly all of our lives. Due in large part to NIH-supported research, a baby born in the United States today can expect to live to nearly age 79—about three decades longer than one born in 1900.  But, with so many people still in desperate need of treatments and cures, much more remains to be done.

To show you a few of the many ways in which researchers are now working to save, extend, and improve lives, I’d like to share this video from the recent “Celebration of Science” forum at NIH. Not only will you hear from a leader in Congress, you’ll see how research is touching the lives of some ordinary people: an HIV-positive woman with dreams of having children, a young man using his brain waves to control a robotic arm, and teenage twins up against a mysterious disease. Take a look—we even have a celebrity cameo from a Seinfeld star!


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