Basic Discovery

The goal of basic biomedical research is to define and understand the pathways, structures and mechanisms that underlie biological processes. These investigations may be motivated by scientific curiosity or by a hypothesis that can be tested rigorously in the lab, rather than by a defined goal to understand or cure a disease. Nevertheless, because fundamental biological principles and mechanisms form the underpinnings of health and disease, achieving a deep level of understanding is an essential element of precision medicine.

The long path to developing potent new treatments often starts with an observation or discovery in the lab that seems to do little more than deepen a mystery or open a new research question. Such questions and mysteries, however, prompt new, testable hypotheses about the function of molecules, cells or whole organisms. These hypotheses can provide insights into disease mechanisms or identify targets for treatment of a condition caused by a process gone awry.

Such investigations have revealed that some seemingly different diseases may have similar or closely related mechanisms. The result, in some cases, is the ability to repurpose a drug that’s effective for one disease, using it to treat another disease that previously lacked effective treatments.

This is just one example of how basic research can motivate connections and collaborations across the spectrum of precision medicine: omics technologies, such as next generation sequencing generate new data applicable to clinical discovery; collaboration with computational health scientists facilitates analysis of new data, which accelerates basic discoveries into the clinic; and discoveries in the clinic lead to new connections and questions that drive further scientific inquiries and understanding.

Driving Projects

Cancer Cell Map Initiative (CCMI) is a collaboration between UCSF, led by Nevan Krogan, PhD and UCSD that is studying complexes of biological molecules that include particular proteins mutated in cancer. Defining these complexes can reveal the biological processes and pathways affected by the mutation, and suggest targets for therapeutic intervention. The CCMI leverages advanced interaction mapping and computational facilities to generate, assemble and analyze cancer networks, focusing initially on had and neck squamous cell carcinoma and breast cancer. 

The Marcus Program in Precision Medicine Innovation (MPPMI) seeks to fuel innovation in precision medicine by fostering creative, high risk, high impact team science projects anchored in basic science and extending into the precision medicine continuum toward improved patient outcomes. Funding has been generously provided by George and Judy Marcus to drive innovative and collaborative efforts between basic researchers and clinical or social/behavioral/population scientists, which are essential to making precision medicine a reality.