To me, the long-term success of the U.S. economy is closely connected with biosciences. I was just reading a Boston Globe article on the Broad Institute:
Since its founding in 2003, the Broad has exploded into a major research hub, with a team of 1,500 scientists and staff, deep pockets, and the goal of leveraging mind-boggling amounts of information to understand and abolish some of humanity’s most complicated and seemingly intractable diseases: diabetes, cancer, schizophrenia.
But with big ambitions come big risks. The Broad’s founders have made what amounts to a bet, with hundreds of millions of dollars from government and private donors: that this kind of large-scale biology will be the key to realizing the human genome project’s promise to transform human health and medicine.
There have been indisputable achievements: Broad scientists have found genes underpinning human diseases; have sequenced the genomes of more than 15 mammals, from dogs to horses; and are leaders in an international effort to compile the genomes of 1,000 people.
But even as discoveries raise the public’s hopes that new treatments are near, the research has so far illuminated not an easy path to curing disease, but immense complexity. In most cases, disease genes contribute in only a small way to the risk of illness, and some scientists have begun to question whether the big biology pursued at the Broad and elsewhere is drawing money from traditional research that might be more fruitful.
I simply don’t know the answer here. I’m not even sure of the right question. The Broad Institute is tackling tough and complex problems head-on with lots of money and new technology, which seems like the right strategy to me. Has the approach not worked? Is it too soon to tell? Or is the Broad Institute going to be like Xerox Parc and Bell Labs–creating a lot of tools for others to use?