Clinical Research vs. Basic Science Research

Discussion in 'Medical Students - MD' started by dara678, Mar 13, 2005.

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  1. dara678

    dara678 Hello Kitty Fan 7+ Year Member

    Aug 8, 2002
    Hi all,

    I was just wondering, what actually distinguishes basic science research from clinical research? I'm a little confused and want to know which category my summer project is falling under.

    I've heard it's better to do clinical research than basic science research as well during med school ... is that true?
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  3. dr.z

    dr.z 10+ Year Member

    Jul 3, 2004
    Detroit, MI
    My understanding of clinical research is any research that deals with patients in one way or the other (themselves, cells from them, and so on) where the study has clinical relevance.

    Basic science research usually studies fundamental functions in biology such as mechanisms of transcription, signaling, cell cycle, and so on. Most often it doesn't have direct clinical relevance (at least in short term).

    I don't know which is better. It probably depends on what you want to do when you get out of medical school.
  4. Blake

    Blake 7+ Year Member

    Jun 21, 2004
    Basic science research usually has more ''weight'' than Clinical research, but it's definitely harder in my opinion.
  5. dara678

    dara678 Hello Kitty Fan 7+ Year Member

    Aug 8, 2002
    yup i think it's harder too ...

    someone told me that clinical trials = clinical research. however, this summer i'm working on a project involving leukemia ... so that's clinical research too?
  6. doc05

    doc05 2K Member 10+ Year Member

    May 24, 2003
    "clinical research" usually includes many b.s. case reports and chart reviews. most are nothing more than statistics anyway. boring as heck, but easy to get published. the few hig-quality studies out there end up in the NEJM or JAMA. Basic research is much more time-intensive, and involves laboratory work. Quality basic science work is more well-respected, and is much more difficult to get published. then again, there are plenty of crap journals out there that'll take anything.

    The best way to understand the differences is to read through a few journals and figure out which you find more interesting. Try the NEJM and JAMA for clinical research; try Cell, JBC, EMBO J for basic science work.
  7. Gut Shot

    Gut Shot 10+ Year Member

    Sep 7, 2003
    Now there is a bit of an oversimplification. Clinical research is in fact most closely associated with clinical trials of new products, be they pharmaceuticals, biologicals or medical devices. There are any number of organizations dedicated to clinical research, such as the following:

    Depends on your definition of "time-intensive." One could argue that a multiple center, multi-year trial of a new medicine or vaccine is a wee bit more time-intensive than a lot of basic science projects (although its limits are much better defined).

    And let us not forget the bastard child of these two branches of research: translational research, where research is taken out of the shop (basic science) and fitted for the road (clinical application).

    P.S. I have a PhD in molecular biology, so there is a reasonable chance that I know what I'm talking about.
  8. fantasty

    fantasty 10+ Year Member

    I agree everything Havarti said.

    "Boring" is relative, because I find a lot of minute details about molecular pathways to be... well.. boring too. And, yes, clinical research uncompasses case reports and chart reviews, but that's the lowest level of evidence. There are more rigorous observational studies, and clinical trials ARE scientific experiments. Furthermore, clinically relevant studies (diagnostic test evaluations, etc) would be clinically oriented research. For those who are inclined to study health care systems, there is also outcomes research, cost-effectiveness studies, and decision analysis. There are also meta-analysis techniques.

    But, yes - some of these studies can be easier to do if you are performing secondary analysis on already collected data.
  9. devildoc2

    devildoc2 Banned Banned

    Jul 11, 2003
    Basic science research is a LOT harder to do and get published than clinical. Therefore, its more reputable.

    hell a high school student with knowledge of elementary statistics could do the core of most "clinical" research. Lots of clinical research involves nothing mroe than questionnaires about symptoms, subjective pain scores, simple blood work, etc.

    Clinical research is all about outcomes. You dont have to show any data on the actual mechanism of anything. In basic science, you have to do experiments that proves a certain mechanism. Thats MUCH harder to do than simply organizing a clinical experiment and reporting on patient outcome data.

    I always laugh when I see these wannabe MD scientists who claim credit for 100 papers published or whatever. Publishing 5 basic science papers is harder than publishing 20 clinical papers.
  10. fantasty

    fantasty 10+ Year Member


    1) Just because something is harder to do doesn't make it more reputable.
    2) I'm not knocking basic science research, as we wouldn't have medicine without it. I'm just saying that clinical research and basic lab research is apples & oranges. But, both can be challenging, both have limitations, and both help move "science" and knowledge along.
    3) Sometimes people use elementary statistics and sometime they do it incorrectly. But, I just spent 2 weeks on my PhD comps and I can tell you it's not all t-tests and chi-squares.
    4) A good clinical researcher can make inferences about mechanisms if the studies are well designed.
    5) See Havarti's post about how "easy" it is to conduct multi-site clinical trials.
  11. devildoc2

    devildoc2 Banned Banned

    Jul 11, 2003
    There are 2 types of "hard/difficult" terminology being used here.

    When I say "hard" i'm referring to something that requires complex thought with an uncertain pathway.

    Multi center clinical trials certaily require a lot of ORGANIZATIONAL EFFORT, but thats still not up to the difficulty of basic science research.

    The rules for multi center clinical trials are well established. It just takes a lot of effort to organize it. In the basic science lab, the methodology for experiments ARE NOT WELL ESTABLISHED, AND REQUIRE ORIGINAL, CRITICAL THINKING TO ACCOMPLISH. That makes basic science research "harder" than multi center clinical trials.
  12. Gut Shot

    Gut Shot 10+ Year Member

    Sep 7, 2003
    Quick questions: How many clincal trials have you participated in? How much basic science have you done?
  13. fantasty

    fantasty 10+ Year Member

    And again, I respectfully disagree. There are guidelines for conducting clinical trials, and there are certainly organizational issues. But, there is a lot of complexity to conducting a valid clinical trial. Selection of appropriate subjects, selection of appropriate placebos, how monitoring occurs, etc can affect the validity and interpretation of the findings. Same goes for outcomes - physiologic vs disease events. In vaccine trials, you have to worry about immunogenicity. Also, the selection of factors that may modify the effect of the treatments may provide insights into the biologic mechanism of action.

    I'm just saying that both lab sciences and clinical sciences require both new/critical thinking. (And, technically, they both require established methodology - each lab scientist didn't come up with the idea to do northern blots, right?). I'll give you that lab sciences require more deeper understanding of positive and negative controls. But, it's also important to consider that in vitro experiments in laboratory conditions may not be valid representations of in vivo systems - hence the need for translation research (like Havarti brought up as well).

    I'm not asking anyone to say that the two are equivalent, but the posts on here make it sound like a drunken monkey could do clinical research.
  14. Gut Shot

    Gut Shot 10+ Year Member

    Sep 7, 2003
    Ain't that the truth! In the six years I spent doing basic science research I spent about 95% of my time troubleshooting. Coming up with project ideas was a snap, it was all the tweaking, twisting, optimizing and going back to the drawing board that killed. In my own experience, basic science is much more about handling frustration than the joy of scientific discovery. After breaking one's gonads for 6 months on the bench, something would finally work perfectly, and there would be much rejoicing. Until the next hurdle appeared.
  15. fantasty

    fantasty 10+ Year Member

    And, although I think this request was aimed at devildoc, I'll admit that I have not done lab research. I have published articles from clinical trial data (although I did not design the trial myself, as I'm a lowly grad student without a 3 million dollar budget). I have taken a graduate class in clinical trials, though. As for basic science research, I do go to frequent talks performed by other graduate students and I live vicariously through them.

    And for the OP, I would say that you should consider your own strengths and weaknesses in making the decision for what type to do. Also, your intended goal may matter too. Are you considering a career in academics? Do you just want a good experience to do this summer? Are you planning on a specialty that favors research? (If the latter, then selection of type of research may matter. For instance, heme-onc may value both lab science investigations of cell cycle control, or clinical science investigation about screening efficacy, etc - I don't know for sure and I won't pretend that I do :) )
  16. Gut Shot

    Gut Shot 10+ Year Member

    Sep 7, 2003
    Oops, my bad! I fixed it.
  17. Joel Fleischman

    Joel Fleischman Senior Member 7+ Year Member

    To get back to the orginal question....
    what is better for a MS do do between first and seccond year:

    Speaking as an MS with a masters in epidemiology and a phd in basic science,
    ... I would go with "clinical" research.
    Why? Your liklihood of getting a publication are much greater. That is if there is a data accumulaiton protocol in set. i.e. if there is a protocol to get folks in for what ever... take a drug and their blood pressure checked, check urine out put, whatever....
    if that is inplace, and no IRB approval is needed, then you may beable to get a small- failry reputable paper out, in three months.
    The secret in short term, small, clinical work is getting the approval. IF that is set, and they are just waiting to get a med student to do the work. My one clinical paper, someone gave me a STATA spread sheet, said - go figure it out, it took me about 3 months, and got published.

    Basic science - the type that "carrys weight" is what many refer to a "bench top" research. This generally does take longer - in the immediate time scale... the major reason is technique. Its just like surgery, there is a knack to it, you just need to do it and get good at it, and it takes time.

    Iwould say big Epidemiology papers take a ton of time... years... Harvard Nurse et al. Basic sciende, may take years. Nobel Prizes are won for progressive work, done in small increments, over years, decades even. Sometimes you can get lucky and get a great paper out in a short ammount of time. That happened to me, and it took me 3 years to do that paper.
    If you want to get the basic science, my advise would be to take a year off, get into a fairly big lab, where you can get your own guidance but get your own project.

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