Jan 30, 2015

A history of failure, serendipity and how the lack of funding can end it all

A recent article reflects how a failed experiment conducted in 1979 created a breakthrough in infant care research.

Sam Stein describes how a group of scientists at a research lab of pharmacology headed by Dr. Saul Schanberg were running tests on newborn rats to measure growth-related markers, when a failed experiment led them to rethink how to conduct the study.

Unknowingly, the results obtained by Schanberg and his team constituted the first step in a process that would see the upending of conventional wisdom when it came to post-natal care. A study done on rats became a study on humans, allowing premature babies to eat better and gain weight, along with achieving greater bone density through massage therapies. May be negative results are more important than we think.

Although, it also must have had something to do with serendipity, because Schanberg worked with Tiffany Field, a psychologist at the University of Miami School of Medicine, who had also been doing research on massaging prematurely born babies.

They put special emphasis on the need for immediate results; private enterprise would never have let them get the results they got. This could be another incentive for publication bias.

As Stain said, “The theories that his team stumbled upon by failure would save an estimated billion of dollars in medical costs and affect countless young parents’ lives.”

World powers like the United States have slipped to tenth place among economically advanced nations in global investment in research and development. About this it has been published in the prestigious journal Nature an article in which researchers affirm that "Policy makers of increasingly number of European countries, as well as the leaders of the European Union, have completely lost touch with the reality of world of scientific research.”

This is reflected in examples such as the situation of Italian universities, in which funding has been cut by 20% since 2009, resulting in a 100% reduction in funding for basic research projects; or in France, where 25% fewer new positions have been created at research centers. Even Germany is encouraging temporary recruitment of researchers.

“Spain has reduced its funding in civil R & D in a 40%, which means 40% less funding for research projects,” explains Moro-Martin, a researcher at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore (USA).

Schanberg died in 2009 but Field continued studying natal care. Her work has been widely cited in medical journals and newspaper articles, but the funding streams have run dry.

Three and a half decades later, they will be rewarded for their work. Their method is estimated to save $10,000 per infant — roughly $4.7 billion a year, and now she's faced with the prospect of dramatically narrowing the scope of her lifelong work, something that is at least a small amount surprising.

Original source

Written by Dra. Belén Suárez Jiménez for The All Results Journals

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