National Academies Press: OpenBook

Science, Medicine, and Animals (2004)

Chapter: The Concept of Basic Research

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Suggested Citation:"The Concept of Basic Research." National Research Council. 2004. Science, Medicine, and Animals. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10733.


Animal research is also important in another type of research, called basic research. Basic research experiments are performed to further scientific knowledge without an obvious or immediate benefit. The goal of basic research is to understand the function of newly discovered molecules and cells, strange phenomena, or little-understood processes. In spite of the fact that there may be no obvious value when the experiments are performed, many times this new knowledge leads to breakthrough methods and treatments years or decades later. For example, chemists developed a tool called a nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) machine to determine the structure of chemicals. When it was developed, it had no obvious applications in medicine; however, scientists eventually realized that the NMR machine could be hooked up to a computer to make a magnetic resonance imagery (MRI) machine. The MRI machine takes pictures of the bone and internal tissues of the body without the use of radioactivity. Other examples of basic research that have led to important advances in medicine are the discovery of DNA (leading to cancer treatments) and neurotransmitters (leading to antidepressants and antiseizure medications). However, there are many other instances where basic research, some of which has been done on animals, has not yet resulted in any practical benefit to humans or animals.

NMR (nuclear magnetic resonance)—a machine that measures the vibration of atoms exposed to magnetic fields. Scientists use this machine to study the physical, chemical, and biological properties of matter.

MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)—a machine that produces pictures of the bone and internal tissues of the body.

Suggested Citation:"The Concept of Basic Research." National Research Council. 2004. Science, Medicine, and Animals. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10733.
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Science, Medicine, and Animals explains the role that animals play in biomedical research and the ways in which scientists, governments, and citizens have tried to balance the experimental use of animals with a concern for all living creatures. An accompanying Teacher’s Guide is available to help teachers of middle and high school students use Science, Medicine, and Animals in the classroom. As students examine the issues in Science, Medicine, and Animals, they will gain a greater understanding of the goals of biomedical research and the real-world practice of the scientific method in general.

Science, Medicine, and Animals and the Teacher's Guide were written by the Institute for Laboratory Animal Research and published by the National Research Council of the National Academies. The report was reviewed by a committee made up of experts and scholars with diverse perspectives, including members of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Institutes of Health, the Humane Society of the United States, and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The Teacher’s Guide was reviewed by members of the National Academies’ Teacher Associates Network.

Science, Medicine, and Animals is recommended by the National Science Teacher's Association.


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