Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘experimental medicine’

Using humans as a model organism

Model organisms have provided the foundation for building our understanding of life, including human disease. Now Homo sapiens has joined this select group, adding knowledge we can apply to ourselves and our myriad companion species. But to resolve even one small part of the moving, shifting puzzle of life, we need them all, writes Dr Ewan Birney, Associate Director of the European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI).

Ewan Birney

Ewan Birney (Image copyright: EMBL-EBI)

Biology is incredibly complex. Even the simplest bacteria make intricate decisions and balance different demands, all via chemical reactions happening simultaneously in what seems like just a bag of molecules: the cell.

Larger organisms all start as a single cell and eventually become living creatures that can fly, or slither, or think – sometimes living for just a day and sometimes for centuries. Evolution has, quite amazingly, given rise to everything from uranium-feeding bacteria to massive sequoias and tax-filing, road-building, finger-painting humans.

Unpicking the complexity of biology is hard, in part because so many things are happening all at once. We’ve been working on it for centuries, building layer upon layer of knowledge collectively, usually relying on specific organisms with which we accumulate large amounts of knowledge on the processes of life. Read more

What do we mean by experimental medicine?

Earlier this month we launched the call for our third round of Experimental Medicine Challenge Grants. But what exactly do we mean by experimental medicine, and why is now a good time to be doing such research? Professor Stephen Holgate, Chair of our Translational Research Group, explains.  

A researcher analysing fMRI data

(Image: NIMH on Wikimedia Commons in the public domain)

 

Medical research would be very different without models of health and disease. We use cells, tissues and animals to determine what healthy biological processes look like, how they change with disease, and to test new interventions.

Traditionally, we made discoveries in models and then, once it was appropriate, tested potential interventions in people. All kinds of models are used, from cells in dishes to macaque monkeys.

Cell and animal models will continue to be a cornerstone of medical research, but it’s time to start experimenting in another important model organism: humans. What could teach us more about human health than the human body itself? Read more