Project #3: Health Outcomes, Research Opportunities &the Direction of Research in Medicine One important reason for the dramatic increase in life expectancy over the past century is the development of new scientific and biomedical knowledge. Despite the importance of such research, there has not been any comprehensive attempt to measure the link between medical research and the subsequent improvements in health. There has also been little scholarly interest in the most productive allocation of limited research dollars across researchers. Young researchers may be better positioned to direct their research to areas with increasing health needs but recognizing areas with the most productive research opportunities may require the wisdom of experienced researchers. Uncovering these responses is important for predicting how aging of US biomedical researchers will alter research and optimal policy. In the first part of this project we estimate how biomedical research communities respond to shocks to research opportunities and population health needs. We will examine how different researcher characteristics such as career stage, availability of funding, and collaborators'characteristics influence the link between topic choice and disease prevalence as well as the link between topic choice and the quality of research opportunities. A weak response by researchers of a particular type would mean that the researchers set their own agenda in a way that does not take the social need into account. In the second part of this project we estimate the direct and indirect impacts that research effort on a disease has on health outcomes. We will compare changes in the extent of research effort across diseases with subsequent changes in disease-specific health outcomes. The analyses take into account health care expenditures, lifestyle and demographic changes, and for-profit medical innovation as factors that influence health outcomes. We will also estimate the indirect impacts that basic and more applied forms of medical research have on health outcomes through their impacts on for-profit medical innovation. The results will form an important input into calculating the optimal level of private and public funding of medical research.

Public Health Relevance

Life expectancy has increased dramatically over the past century. This project uncovers the role of medical research in delivering these advances in life expectancy. The project also examines how population health needs influence the choice of research topics at different career stages, which will help predict how the aging of US biomedical researchers will impact research and its health benefits.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Aging (NIA)
Research Program Projects (P01)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZAG1-ZIJ-9 (04))
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National Bureau of Economic Research
United States
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Weinberg, Bruce A; Owen-Smith, Jason; Rosen, Rebecca F et al. (2014) Research funding. Science funding and short-term economic activity. Science 344:41-3