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Biomedical research (or experimental medicine), in general simply known as medical research which is the basic research, applied research, or translational research conducted to aid and support the development body of knowledge in the field of medicine. Medical research can be divided into two general categories: the evaluation of new treatments for both safety and efficacy in what are termed clinical trials, and all other research that contributes to the development of new treatments. The latter is termed preclinical research if its goal is specifically to elaborate knowledge for the development of new therapeutic strategies. A new paradigm to biomedical research is being termed translational research, which focuses on iterative feedback loops between the basic and clinical research domains to accelerate knowledge translation from the bedside to the bench, and back again. Medical research may involve doing research into public health, biochemistry, clinical research, microbiology, physiology, oncology, surgery and research into many other non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.
The increased longevity of humans over the past century can be significantly attributed to advances resulting from medical research. Among the major benefits of medical research have been vaccines for measles and polio, insulin treatment for diabetes, classes of antibiotics for treating a host of maladies, medication for high blood pressure, improved treatments for AIDS, statins and other treatments for atherosclerosis, new surgical techniques such as microsurgery, and increasingly successful treatments for cancer. New, beneficial tests and treatments are expected as a result of the Human Genome Project. Many challenges remain, however, including the appearance of antibiotic resistance and the obesity epidemic.
Most of the research in the field is pursued by biomedical scientists, however significant contributions are made by other biologists, as well as chemists and physicists. Medical research, done on humans, has to strictly follow the medical ethics as sanctioned in the Declaration of Helsinki and elsewhere. In all cases, the research ethics has to be respected.
Preclinical research is a stage of research that begins before clinical trials (testing in humans) can begin, and during which important feasibility, iterative testing and drug safety data is collected and analyzed.
The main goals of pre-clinical studies are to profile and determine a product's ultimate safety on humans. Products may include new or iterated or like-kind medical devices, drugs, gene therapy solutions, etc.
A clinical trial is a comparison test of a medication or other medical treatment, versus a placebo, other medications and devices, or the standard medical treatment for a patient's condition. Clinical trials can vary greatly in size: from a single researcher in one hospital or clinic to an international multicenter trial with several hundred participating researchers on several continents. The number of patients tested can range from as few as a dozen to several thousands.
Research funding in many countries derives from research bodies and private organizations which distribute money for equipment and salaries. In the United Kingdom, funding bodies such as the Medical Research Council derive their assets from UK tax payers, and distribute this to institutions in a competitive manner. The Wellcome Trust is the UK's largest non-governmental source of funds for biomedical research and provides over £600 million per year in grants to scientists and funds for research centres.
In the United States, the most recent data from 2003 suggest that about 94 billion dollars were provided for biomedical research in the United States. The National Institutes of Health and pharmaceutical companies collectively contribute 26.4 billion dollars and 27.0 billion dollars, respectively, which constitute 28% and 29% of the total, respectively. Other significant contributors include biotechnology companies (17.9 billion dollars, 19% of total), medical device companies (9.2 billion dollars, 10% of total), other federal sources, and state and local governments. Foundations and charities, led by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, contributed about 3% of the funding.
In Australia, in 2000/01 (the most recent data available), about $1.7B was spent on biomedical research, with just under half ($800M, 47%) sourced from the Commonwealth government (all sources). About $540M came from business investments/funding and a further $220M from private or not-for-profit organisations (totalling 44%). The balance was from state and local governments. Since then there has been a significant in government funding through the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), whose expenditure on research was nearly A$700 million in 2008-09.
The enactment of orphan drug legislation in some countries has increased funding available to develop drugs meant to treat rare conditions, resulting in breakthroughs that previously were uneconomical to pursue.
Medical research is very highly regulated. National regulatory authorities are appointed in almost every country worldwide to oversee and monitor medical research, such as for the development and distribution of new drugs. In the USA the Food and Drug Administration oversees new drug development, in Europe the European Medicines Agency (see also EudraLex), and in Japan the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (Japan). The World Medical Association develops the ethical standards for the medical profession, involved in medical research. The most fundamental of them is the Declaration of Helsinki. The International Conference on Harmonisation of Technical Requirements for Registration of Pharmaceuticals for Human Use (ICH) works on the creation of rules and guidelines for the development of new medication, such as the guidelines for Good Clinical Practice (GCP). All ideas of regulation are based on a country's ethical standards code. This is why treatment of a particular disease in one country may not be allowed, but is in another.
A major flaw and vulnerability in biomedical research appears to be the hypercompetition for the resources and positions that are required to conduct science. The competition seems to suppress the creativity, cooperation, risk-taking, and original thinking required to make fundamental discoveries. Other consequences of today's highly pressured environment for research appear to be a substantial number of research publications whose results cannot be replicated, and perverse incentives in research funding that encourage grantee institutions to grow without making sufficient investments in their own faculty and facilities.
Fields of biomedical research include:
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