About the Project
Path to Better Health features scientists, clinicians and collaborators who are motivated to make the world a better place. The series explores the tremendous stakes involved in biomedical research and why a fundamental understanding of biology is needed to improve human health. Learn more about the challenges of predicting preterm births, developing protections against viruses, fighting a devastating tropical disease, and keeping babies safe under anesthesia.
What is Basic Research?
Basic research, or fundamental research, is science motivated by curiosity about the unknown, a desire to fill in gaps in knowledge, without any expectation of where that new knowledge will lead.
Basic research is where transformational discoveries happen. It creates the foundation of scientific knowledge that applied scientific discoveries—like drug discovery or technology developments—build upon.
In basic biomedical research, there’s an element of serendipity. It’s difficult to predict which research will pay off, in what way and when. But most major breakthroughs in terms of our understanding about human health have all come from looking at unexpected places.
One example is Nobel-winning scientist Howard Temin’s work on a virus, later known as a retrovirus, found in chickens. Temin saw early criticism for spending time and resources on something that seemed to have little to do with human health. But when HIV emerged and was found to be a retrovirus, scientists now had a crucial foundation of knowledge to look toward.
The Morgridge Institute is deliberately building a culture of support for this type of science: the freedom to ask big questions and being undeterred by unpredictable answers.