Positive Impact on Health

New developments in biology, chemistry, and health sciences have enhanced our understanding of diseases as different as cancer, heart disease, and autism. In addition, scientists working in fields such as engineering and computer science have generated improved healthcare related equipment and systems for analyzing, storing, and sharing data. A science career as a researcher in any of these fields is a rewarding way to contribute to eradicating many of the health problems facing us today and to improving the quality of life for those suffering from conditions currently lacking a cure.

Some important developments to which scientists have contributed are those with such infectious diseases as malaria, TB, and HIV/AIDS. However, much work remains to be done in both treating these disorders and in preparing for the possible emergence of new diseases. When HIV was first identified in 1983, researchers began an intensive study of the virus. This work led to a better understanding of the HIV virus's life cycle and the importance of the HIV protease. Targeting this enzyme, protease inhibitors were designed and reached the market in 1995. Given in combination with two other antiretroviral drugs, protease inhibitors have dramatically improved the quality of life and the lifespan of HIV patients, making HIV a chronic disease rather than a death sentence. However, much remains to be done, and the development of an HIV vaccine continues to be a major goal in battling this disease.

Despite being relatively rare in the US and other industrial nations, malaria and tuberculosis have actually caused a large number of illnesses and deaths over the past two decades, especially in third world countries. For example, malaria kills up to three million persons each year, largely in sub-Saharan Africa. Scientists across disciplines are working both to identify further treatment and prevention modalities and to set up healthcare delivery infrastructures in less industrialized countries.

Following the development of new tissue culture techniques in the 1950s, a new generation of vaccines has been designed, including those against measles, mumps, and rubella. Recent advances in understanding the immune system and host-pathogen interactions, as well as technical advances in recombinant DNA technology and gene sequencing, have facilitated the development of new vaccines. Some of these, such as the hepatitis B and the influenza type B vaccines are already making a difference. With important targets such as malaria, AIDS, and other new and reemerging diseases, the development of new vaccines is sure to be an important research area and an important contribution of scientists to human health.

Scientists have also contributed to improving both the detection and treatment methods for multiple cancers, designed new drugs to delay the onset of Alzheimer's symptoms, and are developing strategies to minimize the damage following a stroke. In these fields of research and in many others, those working in science jobs have had a positive impact on the health of both the U.S. population and people all over the world.