Tag Archives: basic and applied research

SHOULD MODERN RESEARCH SCIENTISTS AIM TO WORK IN ACADEMIA OR INDUSTRY? 

 

 

Trying to decide where to do research work often is not easy! (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Trying to decide where to do research work often is not so easy!   (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

On the surface, working as a professional researcher at academia (universities, medical schools, research institutes, government research centers) or at industry is a matter of personal choice.  Research jobs at either location have both good and poor operational features.  As I have written earlier, many faculty scientists now are increasingly dissatisfied with their serious job problems in academia (see “Why Are University Scientists Increasingly Upset with Their Job?  Part I”, and “Part II” ).  For the industrial scientists I have known personally, all seemed to be quite happy with their employment, unlike their academic counterparts.  It remains uncommon for any faculty scientist to move into a new research job in industry.

As part of a group of interesting articles about current interactions between industrial research and development activities with scientists in academia, Nature (07 December, 2017: vol. 552, number 7683) has just published a brief dispatch by the science writer, Elie Dolgin, “In Good Company” (https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-017-07425-z).  This article describes 4 selected faculty scientists who ended their dissatisfaction in academia by moving into a new position researching in industry.  Although the very small number of scientists surveyed does not permit any valid statistical examination, I will give an overview of these individuals followed by a closer look at their motivations (i.e., what were their chief dissatisfactions with university research, and what were they looking for when they moved into industrial research).

Overview of scientists who moved from academia into industry! 

The 4 scientists surveyed include both males and females, have varied backgrounds, conducted research in quite different parts of science, and were employed at various institutions within the United States.  One is a cancer cell biologist, another is a neuroscientist, the third is a tumor immunologist, and the fourth is a physicist now working with large-scale computation for weather predictions.  No common characteristics of age, chief research interest, or cultural background are notable.  Some had researched in academia for several decades before moving.  All were quite successful with their research career in academia, but developed reasons and feelings for wanting a big change.

Announced causes for dissatisfaction with researching in academia! 

Motivations of all 4 individuals for moving out of academia into industrial research include recognition that their research findings then will have more practical outcomes and impact for people needing help.  One experienced academic scientist strikingly put the feeling behind his move as, “It’s an opportunity to make drugs instead of papers.”

Perceptions about their new industrial job! 

These individual scientists all found more satisfaction researching within industry due to the presence of several different new opportunities: larger salaries, more possibilities to extend basic studies into applied investigations, no need to get research grants to fund their experiments, and the presence of active training programs for postdocs at larger industrial institutions.  One scientist who worked on basic research in academia stated about the new job, “I (now) get to see my work come alive.”

These individuals also are aware of a few disadvantages for working in industry, such as needing to attend internal meetings more frequently, absence of graduate students, and the strong role for senior administrators in industrial research projects.

Not announced, but very real, advantages for making this move! 

Although not specifically announced in Dolgin’s report, inspection of what their new industrial positions involve indicates that all 4 scientists now have a much larger leadership responsibility (i.e., leading a large research group or serving as an administrative supervisor of an entire research program).  Thus, they all advanced their professional status to a large extent.  The academic environment for research usually restricts such possibilities to whatever can be funded by individual success in acquiring large or multiple awards of external funding.

Some needed discussion about researching in academia versus industry!  

The strong general dissatisfaction currently felt by many faculty researchers underlies what prompted these successful professional researchers in academia to want to move into a better job in industry.  The 4 cases described in this report clearly indicate that moving from academia into industry can be a realistic way for faculty researchers to improve their job situation.  Basic research in academia simply no longer is being encouraged because research now is viewed only as a profitable business activity at most universities.  Since they are profit-seeking institutions, they now value faculty scientists much more for getting money from research grant awards than for making important new discoveries.

Just as there are limited opportunities for university faculty to have charge of anything beyond whatever their own research grants can support, industrial researchers can more readily be part of and supervise dedicated teams working on some specific aspect of research.  The “industrial team approach” to lab research is made very difficult in academia  because all faculty scientists are forced to compete with all other scientists in the current vicious hyper-competition to acquire more research grants (see “All About Today’s Hyper-competition for Research Grants” ).  That counter-productive atmosphere distorts all research in academia today.

Utilization of the industrial team approach for scientific research recently has been initiated at several new biomedical research centers supported by large philanthropy instead of by research grants (see “A Jackpot for Scientific Research Created by James E. and Virginia Stowers!  Part II: The Stowers Institute Is a Terrific New Model for Funding Scientific Research!”, and, “Getting Rid of Research Grants: How Paul G. Allen Is Doing It!” ).

This provocative and fascinating short article in Nature can be read profitably not only by working research scientists, but also by ordinary people!  It clearly points to the need for a much larger survey of faculty scientists who have moved into industrial research, so that some statistical measures for evaluating motivation and outcome can be made.  In addition, the implications of this brief survey raise very important questions for postdocs and graduate students, such as “Should I aim to start my professional research career working in academia or in industry?”

 

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IT’S TIME FOR THE 2016 KAVLI PRIZE WEEK (SEPTEMBER 5 – 8)!

 

Notable quotations by FRED KAVLI about scientific research. Obtained from http:www.youtube.com/watch?v=ch6yMD4JGCo, and from http://www/kavliprize.org/about/fred-kavli.
Notable quotations by FRED KAVLI about scientific research. Obtained from
http:www.youtube.com/watch?v=ch6yMD4JGCo, and from http://www/kavliprize.org/about/fred-kavli.

 

The Kavli Prizes are awarded every 2 years to scientists whose research investigations have made seminal advances in science.  These Prizes were established by Fred Kavli (1927-2013), a physicist, inventor, and industrialist.  Kavli Prizes have the same level of high honor as the Nobel Prizes, but are restricted to 3 large areas of science (astrophysics, nanoscience, and neuroscience).  For 2016, 9 pioneering scientists were announced as awardees in June, and next week the Kavli Prizes will be presented at a special ceremony in Oslo, Norway, during the Kavli Prize Week festivities.

Today’s dispatch briefly gives information about the newest Kavli Prize Laureates and their important research achievements.

Kavli Prize Week and the Kavli Foundation! 

The Kavli Prize website presents much information about the Kavli Prizes and Kavli Prize Week, including the selection of awardees, biographies and information about the newest and the previous Laureates, recordings of presentations by the Laureates, and, several other items for viewing by the general public (e.g., Popular Science Lectures).  This website is highly recommended and very worthy for you to explore independently!

The schedule of events for the 2016 Kavli Prize Week and abstracts for the 2016 Laureate Lectures by the new awardees are given in “The Kavli Prize Week 2016 – Program”The Kavli Foundation issues educational videos explaining the 3 areas of modern science involving the Kavli Prizes.

The 2016 Kavli Prize Laureates! 

The Kavli Prize in Astrophysics (see “2016 Prize in Astrophysics”) is shared between Ronald W. P. Drever (California Institute of Technology, United States), Kip S. Thorne (California Institute of Technology, United States), and Rainer Weiss (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, United States), for their recent direct detection of gravitational waves after many years of controversy about whether these features of cosmology actually existed (see “Brian Greene Explains the Discovery of Gravitational Waves”; also see “Rainer Weiss”).  By persisting in their studies when confronted by failures to detect any gravitational waves, they finally succeeded; their discovery translates theory into practice, and thereby creates a whole new branch of astronomy.

The Kavli Prize in Nanoscience (see “2016 Kavli Prize in Nanoscience: A discussion with Gerd Binnig and Christoph Gerber” ) is shared between Gerd Binnig (IBM Zurich Research Laboratory, Switzerland), Christoph Gerber (University of Basel, Switzerland), and Calvin Quate (Stanford University, United States), for their invention and development of the atomic force microscope.  This new tool for research greatly advances imaging of the molecular and atomic structure of nonconducting surfaces, and permits directly measuring surface properties at the level of different atoms.  Research with atomic force microscopy now is widely used for nanoscience investigations of many different materials in all 3 branches of science; this instrument is wonderfully versatile, so unexpected new applications continue to develop (e.g., usage for medical diagnosis of cancer patients).  Atomic force microscopy took decades of dedicated work to be fully developed and explored.  Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer were awarded the 1986 Nobel Prize in Physics for their invention of the scanning tunneling microscope; that innovative new instrument necessarily preceded the invention and development of the atomic force microscope.

The Kavli Prize in Neuroscience (see “2016 Kavli Prize in Neuroscience: A discussion with Eve Marder, Michael Marzenich, and Carla Shatz” ) is shared between Eve Marder (Brandeis University, United States), Michael Marzenich (University of California at San Francisco, United States), and Carla Shatz (Stanford University, United States), for their research showing that the adult brain changes its architecture and functioning from experience and learning (i.e., brain remodeling and neuroplasticity).  This new concept is derived from study of several different model systems, and replaces the traditional view that the adult brain is static and can no longer change.  Their new model of the brain encourages development of new therapeutic approaches to treat adult human brain dysfunctions (e.g., Alzheimer’s disease, senility, trauma, etc.).

General discussion! 

All the 2016 Kavli Prize Laureates exemplify the expectation that scientists should be creative individuals who are not afraid to explore new ideas, concepts, and approaches!  Their celebrated work has included both basic and applied research, theoretical and experimental studies, and, development of new research methods and instruments.  Their outstanding discoveries were the result of persistent dedication to research as a source for new knowledge; their use of collaborative investigations is prominent.  The 9 Laureates in 2016 are outstanding researchers, and all serve as good role models for young scientists just beginning their professional  careers.

Concluding remarks! 

The 2016 Kavli Prizes admirably fulfill the intention of the late Fred Kavli to honor excellence in research, to emphasize the importance of basic science, and to promote public education about scientific research.  All people should join in celebrating the new Kavli Prize Laureates!

 

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A VERY NEW IMMUNOTHERAPY FOR CANCER WINS THE 2015 LASKER-DEBAKEY CLINICAL MEDICAL RESEARCH AWARD! 

Cancer is "The Big C" for patients, doctors, and research scientists! (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Cancer definitely is “The Big C” for many patients, doctors, and researchers!   (http://dr-monsrs.net)

Many critics of spending billions of dollars on cancer research typically point to the fact that a general cure for neoplastic diseases had not been discovered (see:  “After Spending Billions, Why have Scientists Not Yet Found a Cure for Cancer?” ).  That now is no longer a convincing question, thanks to the basic and applied research of James P. Allison, PhD (University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, in Houston).  His breakthrough experiments and new ideas for anticancer therapy led to remissions and probable cures for some cancer patients who previously had no hope.  This article briefly describes Dr. Allison’s research on the functioning of specialized cells in the immune system, which led to discovery of a very new effective approach for therapeutic treatment of cancer.

The Lasker Awards. 

Each year, the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation [1] bestows 3 Lasker Awards: Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award, Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award, and, Lasker-Bloomberg Public Service Award.  The 2015 Lasker Awards and Laureates all are nicely described on the Foundation website: http://www.laskerfoundation.org/media/index.htm .  Lasker Awards are considered to be most prestigious for medical science,  and the awardees often are considered to be likely to soon receive a Nobel Prize.

Dr. Allison has just won the very prestigious Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award for 2015 for his innovative new immunotherapy against cancer [2-4].  He previously has received numerous other honorary awards, including the 2014 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences [5] and the 2014 Szent-Györgyi Prize from the National Foundation for Cancer Research [6].

A new kind of anti-cancer immunotherapy is developed by Dr. Allison [2-6]! 

Many different immunology-based therapies against cancer have been investigated, but most have produced only limited clinical benefits.  The experimental treatment of cancer with antibodies that specifically bind to molecular components produced by cancer cells has not been successful.  Dr. Allison’s early research investigated the molecular mechanisms for how some cells of the immune system, T-cells, work in the cellular immune response to recognize and kill bacteria, viruses, and abnormal cells in the body. T-cell activities are nominally independent from antibody responses of the immune system.

Detailed research about T-cell surface receptors, binders, and cofactors led to Dr. Allison’s recognition that there are both positive on-signals and negative off-signals regulating T-cells.  One of the down-regulators is a receptor protein named, CTLA-4; upon binding of CTLA-4 to it’s targets, the activation and proliferation of T-cells are turned off.  This negative regulation is normal and is believed to prevent active T-cells from attacking the body’s own constituents (i.e., autoimmune diseases).

Most immunologists have long thought that the immune system should recognize, attack, and kill cancer cells.  Thus, it was a mystery why such does not happen.  This puzzle led Dr. Allison to ask whether CTLA-4 might be turning off a T-cell response against cancer cells.  He tested this hypothesis by developing antibodies that specifically bind CTLA-4 molecules, thereby inactivating their functional activities, including the down-regulation of T-cells.  When these antibodies were injected into laboratory mice bearing a transplantable tumor, there was a large proliferation of T-cells and strong killing of cancer cells inside the tumors!  Injecting control antibodies which bound other proteins had no effects on T-cells, so the tumor-bearing mice died.  Thus, these and other experimental results showed that stopping the normal down-regulation of T-cells released them to give a strong response against neoplastic cells.  The brakes on T-cells had been released by Dr. Allison, so their endogenous anti-cancer activities now went full speed ahead!  The go/no-go interaction between CTLA-4 and T-cells now is known as an immune checkpoint.

The next step in this ongoing research project involved translating the findings from basic research into applied clinical research with experimental treatment of human cancer patients.  After finally finding a pharmaceutical company willing to collaborate with production and testing of anti-CTLA-4 human antibodies, Dr. Allison began initial clinical trials of this experimental treatment of cancer patients who had not responded to any usual surgical, chemical, or radiation therapy.  In some cases the new immunotherapy worked quite well!  A standardized commercial version of human anti-CTLA-4 antibodies was approved for clinical use in 2011; over 30,000 cancer patients now have received the new immunotherapy.  This new cancer treatment is not just another promise of some hoped for future development; it is here today, and actually saves the life of some cancer patients.

Ongoing research in anti-cancer immunotherapy by Dr. Allison and other scientists [2-6]. 

The door now was opened to try this very new kind of anti-cancer therapy with different patients, different cancers, and different therapeutic protocols.  The effects of anti-CTLA-4 antibodies had dramatic results for some patients with malignant myeloma, a blood cell cancer that usually is fatal within one year.  The anti-CTLA-4 therapy put some, but not all, myeloma patients into long-term remission (i.e., over 14 years)!  New research, both by Dr. Allison and by other clinical research scientists, seeks to find: (1) why some malignant myeloma patients do not respond to this new therapy, (2) which additional cancers can be treated by this immunotherapy, (3) whether manipulating other proteins regulating T-cell activities will provide additional curative effects, (4) will combination treatments of cancers (e.g., immunotherapy with concurrent chemotherapy) give even better curative effects, and, (5) can manipulating other immune checkpoints have therapeutic effects against any non-cancer  diseases?

Special features of this very new kind of immunotherapy. 

Some distinctive very special features of this new kind of immunotherapy must be recognized by all readers!

(1)  The new curative therapy is targeted against the immune system, and not against cancer cells.

(2)  T-cells can effectively kill cancer cells; thus, an endogenous response is what kills the cancer cells.

(3)  Endogenous activities of T-cells against neoplastic cells normally are halted by activities of CTLA-4.

(4)  Right now, this new immunotherapy probably cures several types of cancer in some patients.

Concluding remarks. 

Dr. James Allison deserves immense credit for coming up with new ideas and new research findings about the immune system, and for asking new clinical questions.  He is an superb example of how PhD scientists investigating pure basic science in a laboratory can contribute much to applied clinical research.  Individual scientists having creativity, curiosity, enthusiasm, and the guts to think new thoughts, just like Dr. Allison, are the best hope for more important discoveries in all branches of scientific research.

Dr. Allison very clearly has made a wonderful contribution to modern clinical medicine.   All of us can hope that additional cancers finally will be conquered with the results from further research studies and innovative medical developments.  In addition, new approaches to immunotherapy might also benefit patients with some non-cancer diseases.

Recommended videos by and about Dr. James Allison! 

“James Allison’s Cancer Research Breakthrough”, 2014, is available at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ySG2AwpSZmw&spfreload=10 .

“Dr. Jim Allison – 2014 Szent-Györgyi Prize”, 2014, is available on the internet at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YGu2uzV9QOM .

“James P. Allison, Ph.D. on Targeting Immune Checkpoints in Cancer Therapy”, 2015, is available at:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CoBkuTOPJqg .

 

[1]  Lasker Foundation, 2015a.  Foundation overview.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.laskerfoundation.org/about/index.htm.

[2]  Lasker Foundation, 2015b.  Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award.  Award description.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.laskerfoundation.org/award/2015_c_description.htm .

[3]  Lasker Foundation, 2015c.  Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award.  Award presentation by Michael Bishop.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.laskerfoundation.org/awards/2015_c_presentation.htm .

[4]  University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, Newsroom, 2015.  MD Anderson immunologist Jim Allison wins Lasker-DeBakey Award.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.mdanderson.org/newsroom/news-releases/2015/allison-wins-lasker-award.html .

[5]  University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, Newsroom, 2013.  M.D. Anderson researcher Jim Allison wins Breakthrough Prize for his innovative cancer immunology research.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.mdanderson.org/newsroom/news-releases/2013/immunology-research.html .

[6]  National Foundation for Cancer Research, 2015.  The Szent-Györgyi Prize for progress in cancer research.  Available on the internet at: http://www.nfcr.org/prize .

 

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