Medical Research, an Introduction
Medical research is an important part of our health care system as it is how doctors learn to prevent and cure disease. Although it is an important part of keeping us healthy it can also be controversial. It is generally not acceptable to use patients as guinea pigs in research studies which makes it difficult to get test subjects. This is becoming an even bigger problem because the traditional means of doing medical research was to use animals. This is also no longer considered to be acceptable so that can make it difficult to arrange research studies especially for things like drug trials. Nevertheless great strides have been made in recent years and the result is that people are living much longer than they ever have before as the result of medical research.
The primary purpose of medical research is to help doctors learn how to cure disease. There are all kinds of ways that illness can be treated and it is important that research be done to determine the most effective means for treating illness. This is what most people think of when they think of medical research. Modern medicine can treat many illnesses that used to be fatal. Even if the disease can't be cured it is usually possible to dramatically improve the function and quality of life of people with diseases.
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Of course it would be even better if people didn't get sick in the first place and this is another area of focus for medical research. Preventive medicine is one of the largest areas of medical research and it has probably been the most effective. The days when people died as the result of an epidemic of infectious disease are now largely in the past, at least in the developed world. Preventing illness is also a lot more cost effective than trying to cure disease so a lot of people think we should devote even more resources to this type of research.
The cures to most diseases come with side effects and this is another area that needs to be addressed by medical research. It is no good to cure one disease if the cure causes another disease that is even worse. Medical research focuses heavily on the safety and effectiveness of medical cures. This is usually done through clinical trials and is one of the means of curing disease that most people are familiar with.
Some health research is simply basic research, that is an attempt to learn how the body works. This is done not to cure a specific disease but rather to learn. The knowledge gained from this type of research will almost certainly go into creating cures for other diseases but the primary purpose of this type of research is usually not intended to have immediately practical use. This type of research is frequently done by scientists rather than medical doctors so that is another way in which it differs from other types of medical research.