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Research Center

Biomedical Research - The Big Picture

The goal of biomedical research is to improve health. The more we learn about the causes of disease, the better we know how to prevent and treat it. Research also shows us who is at risk for disease, how to test for it, and how to increase health and well-being.

Learning about health and disease is like putting together a giant jigsaw puzzle. Each research discovery adds a piece to the picture. Little by little, the picture becomes clear. We can see what causes a condition, how to treat it and finally, find ways to cure it. There are many research fields that add to this picture. Each one shows more and helps find cures for disease. Biomedical research is made up of all research fields that add to our knowledge of health and disease. It includes both basic science and clinical research.

Basic science researchers study how the disease process happens. They use the most up-to-date technology to study what occurs at the most basic level. These scientists show how the disease works underneath the level we can see. They study things like DNA, molecules, and cells. Through a careful step-by-step process they are able to show a model for the way disease happens. By understanding that model, scientists can change the process. It gives a roadmap to find specific ways to prevent and cure disease. Basic science research tells us how disease happens and ways to change that process. It is a necessary first step in biomedical research.

In clinical research studies, people take part. Just like basic science, there are many different clinical research fields. There are also many kinds of clinical research studies. To learn more about these studies see Clinical Research: Studies Where People Take Part and Behavior and Health: Research that Makes the Link.

We have learned that it is important to have people from all populations take part in research studies to be sure that everyone has the best care. By focusing on individual populations, researchers can learn how to tailor health care for everyone. We have also learned that there are large gaps, called health disparities, between population groups. One of the most important areas of research is to discover what causes these disparities and how to fix them. Many research studies are designed to learn about the needs of minority populations to close the disparity gap.

Translational Research is an exciting new concept to transform the research process. Basic and clinical science fields have continued to expand at an astonishing pace. We learn more every day. At the same time, the more we know, the harder it is to "connect the dots." To advance knowledge, research scientists have to be very specialized and focus in on their work. Also, with so many specialties, research is done in many different places. In a university medical center, for example, researchers work in hospitals and laboratories across a vast university setting. Translational research is designed to put the pieces of the puzzle together. To implement translational research the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has launched the Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSAs) at medical research universities across the United States. These CTSAs are leading the way so that researchers can work together, talk together and engage people in the community. CTSAS speed up the biomedical science process so that breakthroughs get to people, faster.

This online research center provides a guided tour of biomedical research. In the "About Research" section, you can learn about basic science and clinical research and how each one relates to your health. You can learn about a particular kind of clinical study called a clinical trial that tests new discoveries before they can be approved for regular medical care. You can find out more about translational research and the NIH's CTSA initiative. You can also learn about Prevention Research Centers, a national initiative from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

To find out about getting involved see the section "Taking Part in Research Studies." Key Things to Know has information about the range of ways that you can take part, risks and benefits, who's on the research team, and the core protections in place for every research participant. In Finding Research Studies you can learn about the importance of research studies for different populations and how to search for a study by medical condition or population group.

You can also find general information in the "Research Resources" section and explore questions and answers about research in the Ask-an-Expert section. See "Research News" for information about the latest research discoveries.

Doing the best research takes all of us. It takes basic scientists, clinical researchers, and people from all populations. Everyone has a different part of the picture. For discovery to help all people, it is important that research includes everyone. We hope that the information in this research center will help to enlarge the research community. By joining together, we can advance the process of science and bring the full picture to light.

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This article is a NetWellness exclusive.

Last Reviewed: May 15, 2011

Susan   Wentz, MD, MS Susan Wentz, MD, MS
Director, Area Health Education Center
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University