Tag Archives: basic research and applied research



Cover of the 2007 autobiography by James E. Stowers with Jack Jonathan. Published by Andrews McMeel Publishing, and available from many booksellers on the internet. (http://dr-monsrs.net)

Cover of the 2007 autobiography by James E. Stowers with Jack Jonathan. Published by Andrews McMeel Publishing, and available from many booksellers on the internet. (http://dr-monsrs.net)


The life of a major benefactor to biomedical research, James E. Stowers, Jr. (1924-2014), was briefly introduced in the previous article (see: “Part I” ).  I have conjectured there that Jim Stowers must have understood exactly what are the very biggest problems and impediments for research in modern universities.  The Stowers Institute for Medical Research (see:  http://www.stowers.org/ ) precludes those destructive problems and represents a new model to better organize the funding and operations of scientific research at universities.  Part II now examines in more detail the differences between research centers at universities and the Stowers Institute.  I particularly hope that science faculty and administrators at universities will learn about and discuss this new model.

Major differences for science operations between universities and the Stowers Institute. 

The organization of financial support for scientific research at the Stowers Institute differs dramatically from that at universities in the US.  Universities now view science and research only as a business enterprise that is a good means to increase their financial income (i.e., from research grant awards).  This very widespread policy is so counterproductive for research progress that some even have concluded that university science must be dying (e.g., see: “Could Science and Research now be Dying?” and “Science has been Murdered in the United States, as Proclaimed by Kevin Ryan and Paul Craig Roberts” ).  Below are given the chief reasons why universities are so extensively  different from the Stowers Institute.

The number one reason why science in academia is so very unlike that at the Stowers Institute is that universities directly insist that faculty scientists rent laboratory space and support all expenses for their investigations by acquiring research grants.  For universities, faculty scientists now are only a means to the end of increasing their profits (see: “Money now is Everything in Scientific Research at Universities” ); the science faculty presently is forced to spend too much time and emotional energy on trying to acquire more research grant awards, instead of actually doing experiments to produce more new results.  The Stowers Institute replaces research grants by the very large  endowment from Jim Stowers and his wife, Virginia; this endowment is purposefully arranged to continue generating new funds that will be used for future research expenses.

The second reason is that advances in basic research now are downplayed by the funding agencies and by universities, due to its greater distance from generating new products and financial rewards.  Universities and the research grant system give much emphasis to applied research and commercial involvements, since those produce income  more readily.  The Stowers Institute specifically targets basic research, which is the forerunner for all applied research.

A third reason is that the research grant system does not provide much direct support for experimental projects needing 10-20 years to complete.  The most significant questions for research are very large and complex, so answering them simply cannot be accomplished with only the usual 3-5 years of supported research study; getting a research grant renewed always is uncertain, even for famous faculty scientists.  This time limitation discourages scientists from studying the most important research questions. At the Stowers Institute, projects on large research questions are able to be undertaken.

The fourth reason is that the Stowers Institute employs research scientists using contract renewals instead of the traditional tenure system found in universities.  Nowadays, the main way to get tenured in university science departments is to be successful at acquiring research grants; the tenure system mostly counts dollars and differs greatly from the ongoing evaluation of research quality utilized at the Stowers Institute.  Thus, universities actually are rewarding their science faculty for business skills rather than rewarding them for research breakthroughs and science progress.

A fifth reason is that the intellectual atmosphere at the Stowers Institute is much freer and more encouraging of creativity, curiosity, innovation, and interdisciplinary studies than is found at modern universities.  Business is not the endpoint of science; at the Stowers Institute, the openly sought endpoint is research excellence.

What are the effects of these differences upon science and research? 

For today’s universities, science is just a business and their faculty scientists are businessmen and businesswomen.  Their pursuit of money fundamentally changes and distorts the true aim of scientific research.  The chief target of science faculty is no longer to discover new knowledge and increase understanding.  Instead, daily life for many university scientists involves the hyper-competition for research grants, which wastes both time and money, and, makes it very difficult to trust any fellow faculty scientists for advice  and collaborations (see: “All about Today’s Hyper-competition for Research Grants” ).  Accordingly, science at universities now is distorted, degenerated, and perverted; this extensive decay subverts science and research at universities.

Turning university research into a commercial activity distorts the traditional aims of science, and increases the corruption of scientists there (see: “Why is It so very Hard to Eliminate Fraud and Corruption in Scientists?” ).  Basic research remains as important as it always has been, and should not be repressed in favor of applied research.  The Stowers Institute recognizes these values and succeeds in pursuing excellence in biomedical science; its success seems to be directly due to the philosophy and organization instituted by its founder and directors.

The policies and organization that Jim Stowers initiated clearly go against all the serious problems for science at universities.  His distinctive design emphasizes using and encouraging creativity, exploration of new ideas by innovative research, vigorous collaborations, and much hard work; this atmosphere aims to result in research breakthroughs and encourages new concepts in basic science.  Jim Stowers and co-organizers clearly have shown how this idealistic atmosphere can be accomplished in today’s world.  It is noteworthy that some large pharmaceutical firms endow their own research institutes quite similarly to what has been done for the Stowers Institute.

Is this huge difference only a question of money? 

Of course, many will say that the donation of a billion dollars would let their university activate enlightened policies for its science.  I disagree, and believe that money alone will not remedy the negative aspects of current university science!  Also needed are wholesale changes in administrative policies, independent leadership, organization, philosophy, working atmosphere, and, much less dedication to commercialization.  All of these are essential!  Although making these changes would rescue university science from its present debilitation, it seems unlikely that such will be undertaken.

Any excuse by universities that they do not have such large funds does not explain why the huge endowments already in-hand at some universities are not spent for the support of scientific research and researchers in a manner analogous to the Stowers Institute.  Instead, these very large funds are used to try to further increase the financial income and profits of academic institutions (e.g., all sorts of entertaining amusements on and off campus, flashy brochures and other publicity,  programs for visiting prospective students and parents, public courses and lectures, travel programs, solicitation of donations, sports activities and athletic contests, television specials, etc.).

Why cannot university science departments mimic the model of the Stowers Institute, and thereby free themselves from their major problems? 

If it is not only a question of money, then there must be something else that impedes adopting the Stowers Institute as a model for conducting good scientific research.  Opinions for identifying this hidden  factor will differ, but I see the actual cause as being the commercialization of science at universities (see: “What is the Very Biggest Problem for Science Today?” ).  This commercialization changes the whole nature of academic science and research.  The research grant system was intended to enable scientific research, not to change and distort it.  Universities were supposed to produce new knowledge and concepts, to teach, and to investigate the truth, not to become financial centers.  All these ideals have changed so greatly at universities that good scientific research now is hindered and foundering.  The actual priorities are quite different from the needed priorities; until these are changed, faculty scientists cannot hope to escape from their enslavement by the research grant system.

Concluding remarks. 

The Stowers Institute for Medical Research stands as a very successful new model for promoting research advances and science progress.  The big difference to science that Jim and Virginia Stowers have made in the US can and should be copied by universities to reorganize and better foster their high quality research.  This large change in priorities and operations need not be done all at once (i.e., simultaneously for all science departments); it could start with one science department and then expand to others over a 10-year period.  The payoff to universities for removing the restrictions and distortions imposed by viewing scientific research only as a commercial business enterprise, will be a substantial elevation of the quality and vigor of their science activities, and, a more reliable future input of income.

The success of the Stowers Institute dramatically proves that science does not need to be harnessed and hobbled by the research grant system!  Bypassing the grave current problems at universities stemming from the research grant system will reduce or remove the vicious hyper-competition for research grant awards that badly distorts their science, and will increase job satisfaction for the science faculty.  The benefits shown by this new model give some hope that university science need not continue to decay and degenerate until it actually dies (see: “Could Science and Research now be Dying?” ).



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Cover of the 2007 autobiography by James E. Stowers with Jack Jonathan. Published by Andrews McMeel Publishing, and available from many booksellers on the internet. (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Cover of the 2007 autobiography by James E. Stowers with Jack Jonathan. Published by Andrews McMeel Publishing, and available from many booksellers on the internet. (http://dr-monsrs.net)


James E Stowers, Jr. (1924-12014) must have understood exactly what are the very biggest problems and impediments for modern science before he and his wife founded and generously financed a wonderful new research institute.  This large research center provides a dramatic new model for the funding of scientific research that avoids the dreadful problems now damaging science at universities.  Part I will briefly relate his interesting history and the unusual organization of the Stowers Institute for Medical Research.  Part II will explain in detail why this new direction for supporting scientific research is so unusual, very worthy of emulation, and giving hope that the dying science in modern universities can be rescued.

What sort of person was Jim Stowers?

Jim Stowers was born, raised, and educated in Missouri.  Since he recently passed away at age 90, many publications describe his life story [e.g., 1-3].  With his father and grandfather being physicians, he first studied for some years at the University of Missouri Medical School before entering the US Army Air Force where he served as a fighter pilot in WW2.  When back home, young Stowers became a business entrepreneur.  In 1958 he set up Twentieth Century Mutual Funds, which concentrated on serving individual people; this private company grew under his leadership to later be renamed American Century Investments.  That financial business was very successful and his personal fortune grew substantially as the firm became one of the largest mutual fund companies in the US.

Jim Stowers has co-authored several popular books including an autobiography (see image above under the title).  He and his wife, Virginia, a professional nurse, have several children and grandchildren.  Jim and Virginia Stowers each were stricken with cancer, but both fortunately became cancer survivors and dedicated philanthropists for science.  In 1994, they targeted high quality science by founding the Stowers Institute for Medical Research in their hometown, Kansas City, Missouri.  Their personal donations and endowment (Hope Shares Endowment) total around 2 billion dollars!  Jim Stowers is quoted as saying, “My wife and I wanted to give back something more valuable than money to the millions of people who made our success possible, and we think that through science is the best way we can do it” [2].

A good recent video nicely illustrates the life and activities of Jim Stowers; “James E. Stowers, Jr. Tribute Video” is from American Century Investments, and is available on the internet at:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P3g531Fwi64&feature=youtu.be .

The Stowers Institute for Medical Research [1-3]. 

Since its opening in 2000, the Stowers Institute has grown to now have 22 research programs and over 500 research workers.  Over 150 research projects by in-house scientists currently involve 75 postdocs, 58 graduate students, 80 research technicians, and 73 support scientists.  In 2012, The Scientist magazine announced that their annual survey had found the Stowers Institute to rank in the top 3 places for scientists to work worldwide.  Dr.M encourages everyone to take a look at the fascinating website of the Stowers Institute at:  http://www.stowers.org/ .

The mission of the Stowers Institute is to conduct the highest quality scientific research in order to find and understand the secrets of life.  By focusing innovative research on genes and proteins it aims to contribute to the betterment of people by its discoveries relating to the causes, treatments, and prevention of diseases.  The Stowers Institute has a number of unusual features distinguishing it from other biomedical research centers.  Unlike all universities, it is self-supported from the very large endowment from Jim and Virginia Stowers; this means that its faculty-level scientists do not need to spend time worrying about the vagaries of research grants, and instead can concentrate on vigorously doing significant research work.  The size and purposeful organization of the endowment funds will generate ongoing income for the future expenses of this major research center.

Another unusual characteristic of the Stowers Institute is that its multidisciplinary teamwork-based approach is directed onto pure basic research (i.e., to be able to advance detection and clinical treatment of cancer and other difficult diseases, it is necessary to first understand very much more about the activities of genes and proteins in normal and pathological cells).  The Stowers Institute is physically organized to facilitate internal collaborative interactions, and provides the many support services and facilities needed for research operations by its principal investigators (e.g., core labs, shared research equipment, technology centers, etc., with each staffed by technical experts).

Two good recent videos show the Stowers Institute and its activities for science.  “NBC features the Stowers Institute for Medical Researh” is from American Century Investments, and is available on the internet at:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dMRIrk9nW8k .  “The Stowers Institute for Medical Research – The Local Show” from station KCPT shows some research scientists in action at the Stowers Institute; it is available at:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1quFJfeuG0o&spfreload=10 .

The BioMed Valley Discoveries organization. 

The Stowers Institute, which features non-clinical basic research, is affiliated with the nearby BioMed Valley Discoveries, Inc.,  also funded by the Stowers endowment.  This company (see:  https://biomed-valley.com ) features applied pre-clinical and clinical research, by conducting new drug trials and clinical research investigations stemming from the basic findings at the Stowers Institute.  Emphasis is given to translating advances from pure basic research into new and better clinical practices at the bedside of patients.  It does not hesitate to work on disease-related projects considered unprofitable by the large pharmaceutical companies.  Success in its ventures presumably will lead to later commercial developments that will add more funds to the Stowers endowment.

Concluding remarks. 

Everyone must admit that Jim and Virginia Stowers have made a big difference to biomedical science in the US.  The Stowers Institute for Medical Research stands as a successful and inspiring new model for promoting research advances and science progress; this will be discussed in more detail in Part II.  The payoff for the public will come later when new findings generated from innovative basic research at the Stowers Institute result in development of more effective clinical treatments for human diseases.


[1]  The Stowers Institute for Medical Research, 2014.  James E. Stowers, Jr.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.stowers.org/James-E-Stowers .

[2]  American Century Investments, 2014.  Innovator and philanthropist dedicated life to helping others.  Available on the internet at: https://corporate.americancentury.com/content/americancentury/corporate/en/press/news-releases/2014/stowers-tribute.html .

[3]  E. A. Harris, The New York Times, 2014.  James E. Stowers, Jr., benefactor of medical research, dies at 90.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/19/business/james-e-stowers-jr-benefactor-of-medical-research-dies-at-90.html .



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