• Question: Are you close to deciphering the cause of any rare or common diseases like cancer,diabetes etc?If so,how long does the process take to solve these causes?

    Asked by Maria♥ to Nicholas, Natalie, Marta, Craig on 15 Mar 2017.
    • Photo: Marta Varela

      Marta Varela answered on 15 Mar 2017:

      Hi Maria.

      Working out the best way of curing these complicated disease takes a long time, lots of money, many people and many entities (not just research labs, but also pharmaceutical companies, government support, etc). Depending on the disease and on the amount of willigness governments and other stakeholders have to solve them, it can take from say 10-15 years to >100.

      I make computer simulations of a disease called atrial fibrillation. Atrial fibrillation is very common and very complex. My work is just a tiny, tiny bit of the puzzle of working out how to treat it.

    • Photo: Craig O'Hare

      Craig O'Hare answered on 15 Mar 2017:

      Sadly not.

      These diseases are really complicated and we’re only really beginning to understand how they work or why our current strategies aren’t working enough. In many ways a lot of current medicine is actually guesswork.

      My research could be incorporated into the design of cancer vaccines but this therapy is still in its infancy.

      How long it takes to cure a disease depends on a lot of factors and resources. Luck is even a big part of it too. Funding has a tendency to go up and down. In a lot of cases the more promising therapies may not be very cost effective either so it could be difficult to administer them on a large scale without financial support from a pharmaceutical company.

      Adoptive cell therapy for cancer is a good example of this. Some patients will spend £100,000 to have their immune cells taken out of their body and then grown up and made stronger to be put back into their bodies fight off their tumours. Even when this works it’s very resource heavy and costly to do so it would be difficult to make available for everyone.

      This is why we need to keep researching these diseases to find targets are effective and that can be given to everyone.

    • Photo: Natalie Doig

      Natalie Doig answered on 16 Mar 2017:

      Hi Maria,
      I work on a part of the brain called the basal ganglia which is affected by Parkinson’s disease. Even though we know the cause of the disease (a specific group of cells in the brain die) we do not know why those cells specifically die! A lot of research is dedicated to understanding the possible reasons why the cells die and how to stop the process so they don’t die. The process takes a long time and you need the money to do the research. And then once you make a discovery (find a potential drug) it has to be tested and this stage takes ~12 years until a drug can be approved and used in humans.