We all love athletics, nothing is more exciting than a relay race where a team of runners pass on the torch/baton in perfect synchronisation to win the event. There is no individual winner, it is teamwork that wins the race. However it is inevitable that the last or finishing runner gets the spotlight. He/she finishes the race and hence the spotlight, inspite of the fact that every runner in the team plays a critical role in winning the race.

Why do we have a fascination for finishers? The same holds good for science. Today we will talk about the Lifecycle of Science. Science is also like a wave that has a beginning and an end. At the end of the lifecycle a new wave emerges and science goes through that cycle again. The Lifecycle of Science is also like a relay where there are individual members playing specific roles. Every individual plays a critical role in the Lifecycle of Science. However we all have a fascination for the finishers. Lets explore this concept further with an example of the field of healthcare.

One of the greatest mysteries facing mankind today is the functioning of the brain. How do we remember things, why do we cry, what controls our desire, there are so many unanswered questions which leads a team of research professionals to explore this mystery.

Cut off from the outside world for days and weeks they try to solve the puzzle. What are the neurons in the brain that control speech and memory? Working on the problem for years they finally make a breakthrough and the results of their research is published in scientific journals. This kind of research is called Discovery due to the generic nature of the research and has profound implications for the future of healthcare. This is also called Pure Science which is foundational research.

Somewhere in a different part of the world another group of professionals read the newly published research. They realise that this fundamental research could be the basis or foundation for their research on Alzheimer’s disease, the disease of the Brain. Their work ultimately leads to several successful publications on the cure for Alzhiemers disease. As you can see the baton or torch has been passed from the foundational research team through their work  to the applied research team and they formulate their solution to this dreaded disease. This is also called applied research since it targets a specific problem through an invention.

A pharmaceutical company willing to fund the commercialisation of this solution hires a group of biotechnologists to build a technology to manufacture the drug on a large scale to cure Alzheimer’s disease. So now we can see how the torch changes hands from research stage to commercialisation and finally reaches the hands of a doctor who cures Alzheimer’s disease patients by giving them the wonder drug. The doctor is the finisher here and he does get a lot of credit ! Just like the relay race the cycle of science starts with foundational research and ends in the hands of the doctor who is the last runner who gets a lot of visibility. This is not to say that the doctor does not deserve credit.

But we never give credit to scores of professionals who are down the value chain and who pass the torch through their dedication, ingenuity and hard work. So next time we appreciate a doctor for curing a patient remember that the doctor is a part of a relay team that worked in unison to deliver this wonder drug to the patient.

Remember, unless one of you is a a patent lawyer who protects the new drug commercialisation technology from being copied, or a statistician who analyses clinical trial results to determine applicability of the drug to humans, or a scientific communicator who explains the researcher’s work to the common man so they get the benefit of the research or a science policy professional who works with the government to implement technology at a larger scale for the benefit of the country, science will never benefit the world. It will remain within the confines of the lab, the relay is never won and the lifecycle of science never ends !

This is teamwork.