Basic Research and Science

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Basic Research and Science

Four trends in basic research are (1) the decrease in federal funding, (2) more funding for development than basic research, (3) the decrease in funding from companies, and (4) a multi-year increase in basic research funding in South Korea. Three trends in basic research in the medical/life sciences space are (1) the use of cellular reprogramming/CRISPR, (2) an increase in spend by the pharmaceutical industry, and (3) a multi-year increase in spend on basic research by the National Institutes of Health. Five recent, key breakthroughs/promising developments in basic research are (1) using Immunoglobulin M to prevent Type 1 Diabetes progression, (2) TAU proteins were found to be biomarkers for the development of gliomas, (3) research that resulted in better brain pacemakers for people who have Parkinson's, (4) identifying the level of fructose that intestines are able to metabolize as it relates to Type 2 Diabetes risk, and (5) reducing heart disease risk through diabetes treatment.

Basic Research Trends

1. Decrease in Federal Funding

  • A clear trend in basic research has been a decrease in federal funding for it, as has been the case in countries such as the U.S. and Australia.
  • In the U.S., 2017 marked "the first time in the post–World War II era . . . [that] the federal government no longer funds a majority of the basic research carried out in the United States."
  • An August 2019 article about the declining basic research spend in Australia was titled "Australian basic research squeezed as R&D to fall to lowest level for decades."
  • This trend has been noted by multiple sources, including STAT News, Science Magazine, and the Royal Society of Chemistry.
  • Despite the decrease in federal funding within the U.S., 77% of Americans believe that over the long haul, basic research pays off, as was found by a Pew Research survey in 2018.

2. Decreased Funding by Companies

  • A second trend in basic research is that companies/firms have been decreasing their funding of basic research.
  • According to Duke University's Dr. Arora, "corporate America . . . has significantly scaled back its involvement in basic research. 'My sense is that Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and others are doing some research, but nothing on the scale that the older, more-established companies used to do, which means there is a net decline in basic research efforts.'"
  • A 2019 article in Harvard Business Review stated that "[a]s firms reduce spending on basic research, they have fewer researchers following and participating in the wider academic community. This implies that firms will increasingly lose the knowledge of where to look for relevant research and apply it."
  • This trend was noted by sources that include Science Magazine, Harvard Business Review, and Lab Manager.
  • A factor driving this trend is that some companies perceive basic research as a risky, long-term pursuit, which they are adverse to, compared to the here-and-now.

3. More Spending on Development Than Research

  • A third trend in basic research is that more funding is being devoted to development than basic research.
  • A 2019 article from the American Association for the Advancement of Science said that industrial research and development is becoming "increasingly focused on shorter-term, lower-risk development . . . [as] nearly 80 cents of every dollar spent by industry on R&D is now ticketed for development, compared with 20 cents for basic and applied research."
  • Even applied research is fairing better than basic research in terms of funding, as an analyst remarked that "[m]arket-driven R&D has shifted the focus from fundamental research toward applied R&D."
  • As was also true for the previous trend, a factor driving this trend is that some companies perceive basic research as a risky, long-term pursuit, which they are adverse to, compared to the here-and-now.
  • This trend has been noted by sources that include the American Association for the Advancement of Science and Science Magazine.

4. Increasing Spend in South Korea

  • A fourth trend in basic research is that South Korea enacted a multi-year increase in funding for basic research, which began in 2018 and steadily increases through 2022.
  • The name of South Korea's plan is the Fourth Science and Technology Basic Plan.
  • In total, South Korea has committed to providing nine trillion won in basic research funding, which equates to approximately $7.7 billion USD.
  • At the outset of the plan, South Korea "invest[ed] 1.42 trillion won in basic research projects" (approximately $1.2 billion USD). That level of funding marked a year-over-year increase in funding of 160 billion won (approximately $136.7 million USD), compared to the 1.26 trillion won (approximately $1.07 billion USD) provided in the prior year.
  • For the remaining years in the plan (through 2022), basic research funding will steadily increase and, by 2022, will reach 2.52 trillion won (approximately $2.15 billion USD). When that funding level of basic research occurs, it "will be double the" funding level provided in 2017.
  • The funding will cover basic research in the following 13 areas: AI, big data, drones, smart cities, smart robots, augmented reality, renewable energy, smart semiconductors, autonomous vehicles, innovative medicines, communications, healthcare, and advanced materials.
  • This trend was noted by sources such as BusinessKorea and Yonhap News Agency.

Medical/Life Sciences Basic Research Trends

1. Cellular Reprogramming/CRISPR

  • A basic research trend in the medical/life sciences space involves cellular reprogramming and specifically the use of Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR).
  • A 2019 article published by Technology Networks said that "[c]ellular reprogramming is exploding" in popularity.
  • Within cellular programming, the use of Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR) has really taken off. CRISPR refers to "segments of prokaryotic DNA that play a key role in bacterial immune systems."
  • Scientists recently identified how CRISPR's capability can be used to permanently modify all organisms' DNA.
  • Over the past five "years, 10,000s of laboratories all around the world — whether they are academic, government, or industrial research — have rapidly adopted this technology [CRISPR]" as it "is markedly faster, more efficient and easier to use than previous gene editing methods."
  • As a result of the surging popularity of CRISPR usage, basic research involving the topic of comprehending the differing roles that various genes play is "[o]ne of the areas that has been especially enhanced."
  • This trend has been noted by sources such as the American Society for Cell Biology and Technology Networks.

2. Pharmaceutical Industry

  • A second basic research trend in the medical/life sciences space is the pharmaceutical industry's increase in spend on basic research.
  • The global pharmaceutical industry has been increasing its research and development spend. In fact, there has been an approximately three percent annual increase in R&D spending occurring within the global pharmaceutical industry.
  • As a result of that three percent annual increase that's been occurring, the projected R&D funding for 2019 within the global pharmaceutical industry was $177 billion.
  • Furthermore, since 2015, over $345 billion has been raised by pharmaceutical companies through both stock offerings and debt, which has "fuel[ed] more basic research and hundreds of new clinical trials."
  • This trend has been noted by sources such as Barron's and Health Policy Watch.

3. National Institutes of Health

  • A third basic research trend in the medical/life sciences space is that the National Institutes of Health has been steadily increasing its basic research spend in recent years.
  • From 2015 through 2018 (the last year provided in the graph), the National Institutes of Health's spend on basic research increased each year.
  • In 2015, the National Institutes of Health spent approximately $16 billion on basic research, which we estimated by looking at the graph since exact values weren't provided.
  • In 2016, the National Institutes of Health spent approximately $16.5 billion on basic research.
  • In 2017, the National Institutes of Health spent approximately $17 billion on basic research.
  • In 2018, the National Institutes of Health spent approximately $18.5 billion on basic research.

Recent Basic Research Breakthroughs/Promising Developments

1. Fructose Metabolization & Type 2 Diabetes Risk

  • A recent breakthrough/promising development discovered through basic research was the level of fructose that intestines are able to metabolize as it relates to Type 2 Diabetes risk.
  • Princeton University's Cholsoon Jang sought to determine why the risk for Type 2 Diabetes is linked to drinking soda.
  • Dr. Jang's study, which "received significant media attention," found that when fructose is consumed in small amounts, the intestines are able to metabolize it and thus it "never makes it into [bloodstream] circulation."
  • In contrast, when fructose is consumed in large amounts, such as when drinking soda, the normal route for disposal through the intestines is overwhelmed and thus the fructose finds its way into "the bloodstream, ultimately causing toxicity in the liver and increasing risk for" Type 2 Diabetes.
  • The inference from the study is that people with Type 2 Diabetes or who are at risk of developing it should seek be cautious with the amount of fructose/soda they consume.

2. Immunoglobulin M Preventing Type 1 Diabetes Progression

  • A recent breakthrough/promising development discovered through basic research is the use of Immunoglobulin M (IgM) to prevent Type 1 Diabetes progression.
  • The American Diabetes Association Research Foundation reported in 2018 that Dr. Kenneth Brayman discovered that in Type 1 Diabetes patients, Immunoglobulin M (IgM) malfunctions and actually causes the dysfunction of immune cells, which results in "the immune system . . . attack[ing] the" cells that produce insulin in the body.
  • Through his basic research, Dr. Brayman made a breakthrough discovery that when IgM from human donors who are healthy was obtained, the mice who received the IgM from those donors actually stopped Type 1 Diabetes from progressing. In further support of that finding, the IgM that came from human donors with Type 1 Diabetes did not stop Type 1 Diabetes from progressing in the mice.
  • Recently, an application for a patent was filed by Dr. Brayman with regard to this development "and [he] hopes to advance clinical testing that might make IgM therapy a reality for people at high risk for" Type 1 Diabetes, with the ultimate goal being to prevent the occurrence of Type 1 Diabetes altogether.

3. TAU Protein — Biomarkers For the Development of Gliomas

  • A recent breakthrough/promising development discovered through basic research is that TAU proteins were found to be biomarkers for the development of gliomas. The Instituto de Salud Carlos III UFIEC led the study that made this discovery.
  • TAU proteins are usually linked to Alzheimer's and other types of neurodegenerative diseases.
  • Recent studies found that glioma cells contained "a significant expression of the protein TAU" particularly in patients with gliomas who had better prognoses.
  • Better prognoses are given to glioma patients who have a tumor with the gene mutation isocitrate dehydrogenase. TAU protein expression was stimulated by the isocitrate dehydrogenase mutations. The TAU then functioned "as a brake for the formation of new blood vessels, which are necessary for the aggressive behavior of the tumors. "
  • One of the professors involved in the study explained that "[i]n IDH1/2 mutant tumors, we found that expression levels of TAU decreased with tumor progression."
  • The breakthrough finding from this study was that TAU proteins can be "biomarker[s] for tumor progression in mutant IDH1/2 gliomas."

4. Parkinson's Brain Pacemakers

  • A recent breakthrough discovered through basic research was a way to make better brain pacemakers for people in who have Parkinson's.
  • In China, the number of people who have Parkinson's disease totals about two million.
  • Tsinghua University's Professor Li Luming conducted breakthrough, basic research that enabled better brain pacemakers to be made for patients with Parkinson's disease that are more durable, lighter, smaller, and more affordable.
  • For his breakthrough research, Professor Li Luming received "the top 2019 State Scientific and Technological Progress Award."

5. Reducing Heart Disease Risk Through Diabetes Treatment

  • A recent breakthrough/promising development discovered through basic research was the identification of molecules that can reduce glucose like insulin does, but "without activating the processes that promote heart disease. "
  • This was a very important discovery because people who have Type 2 Diabetes have a "significantly increased risk for developing heart disease. "
  • The conundrum that the University of Washington's Jenny Kanter set out to solve was that "increasing insulin levels is important for managing diabetes, [but] too much insulin may contribute to atherosclerosis by stimulating processes unrelated to glucose lowering."
  • From this breakthrough/promising development, the hope is that there could be "a treatment for diabetes that also prevents heart disease."

Research Strategy

We identified the trends provided above, both for basic research overall and for basic research regarding medical/life sciences specifically, by reviewing many articles published by a variety of sources on those very topics. Those sources ranged from the likes of Science Magazine, to Pew Research, and Barron's. We ensured that each trend we provided is indeed a trend by finding each described as such by at least two, reputable sources. With regard to breakthroughs/promising developments in basic research, we found five examples of such through publications from sources that included the American Diabetes Association and Science Daily.
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