Pursuing a career in the medical field is a noble effort and a long-term commitment far beyond graduation day. For those who stay the course, the road may be stressful at times, but seeing patients get well makes it worthwhile.
Within the medical field, there are several areas of study where a Ph.D. can make the biggest difference; areas of health our society is currently affected by most. Those areas are cardiovascular, immunity, cancer, and genetics. Some are intimately related, like cancer and immunity.
Cardiovascular and respiratory
Respiratory disease and cardiovascular health are connected. Since millions of people are affected by respiratory disease, this area of research is more important than ever. Respiratory disease affects people of all ages: babies, children, teenagers, adults, and the elderly.
Asthma is just one respiratory disease that affects more than 25 million people in the United States, while 14.8 million adults have been diagnosed with COPD.
Respiratory diseases are taxing to the healthcare system as well as individuals. Health insurance premiums may not be higher due to recently changed laws, but the cost of treatment has gone up.
Why research is important
Although plenty of research is available to read, medical universities understand the importance of providing courses that allow students to experience the research for themselves. For instance, cardiac arrhythmias, heart failure, heart disease, and the physiology of COPD are all areas of hands-on research for Rush University’s Biomedical Science students.
Students working toward their Master’s or Ph.D. in Integrated Biomedical Sciences have the opportunity to collaborate on specific areas of research, guided by an advisor. Although they may perform the same type of studies others have, the hands-on experience gives students wisdom they wouldn’t develop otherwise.
Immunity, infection, and inflammation
More widespread than asthma, AARDA reports that autoimmune disease affects 50 million Americans, with $591 million spent on research in the US alone. According to AARDA, autoimmune disease is the most popular health topic requested by those who call the National Women’s Health Information Center.
Autoimmune disease causes immune cells to attack the healthy cells they’re designed to protect. These diseases include (among others): lupus, multiple sclerosis, narcolepsy, celiac disease, psoriasis, Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and type 1 diabetes.
Unfortunately, commonly used treatments lead to devastating long-term side effects. This makes research and study in this field most important.
The American Cancer Society says 87% of cancers in the US are diagnosed in people 50 and older. They define cancer as “a group of diseases characterized by the uncontrolled growth and spread of abnormal cells.” If this growth is not controlled, the patient can die.
This disease has many causes, some unknown, and can affect nearly every part of the body.
Standard cancer treatments can include chemotherapy and surgery, but researchers are continually looking for treatments without harsh side effects. Chemotherapy, for example, can cause many undesirable effects including brain fog, hair loss, anxiety, hot flashes, nausea, and a weak heart.
Even if cancer isn’t completely understood, medical students who research this field have the advantage of making a bigger difference for their future patients.
Genetics are important to study, but it can be a dangerous road without objectivity. Studying genetics must be done in a way that allows for new research and experiments, rather than accepting the veracity of the hypothesis of former studies.
For example, ever since the human genome was sequenced almost two decades ago, scientists and medical researchers have been looking to genetics to find answers for just about everything.
When taking on this project, scientists hypothesized that faulty genes inherited from parents caused not just rare diseases, but common ones too, such as diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure. They were convinced they’d find a gene for everything that plagued mankind.
The project was largely unsuccessful. In 2009, one of the original project leaders, Francis Collins, published a paper in the scientific journal Nature along with 26 other well-known geneticists. The paper was titled Finding the Missing Heritability of Complex Diseases and acknowledged the failure of the project – despite $100 billion spent, geneticists never found more than a fractional genetic basis for common disease.
Although the study itself flopped, it was a good lesson in the importance of objectivity and continually performing new research.
When pursued objectively by new students entering fields of scientific research, the study of genetics has the potential to make a big difference for future generations.