I am celebrating an important anniversary this week. It is 20 years since I completed the data collection that led to the paper which changed my life. At the end of an experiment that had been under way for over 4 months I finally completed a set of blood pressure measurements, analysed the data and found, to my amazement, that feeding a protein restricted diet in rat pregnancy resulted in high blood pressure in their adult offspring. This was the first experimental confirmation of the Barker Hypothesis.
I say that this work changed my life with utter sincerity. Research changes lives in many ways. In my case, this experiment was the start of it all. The production of my own small brick to add to the wall of human knowledge, launched my career, got me to where I am today and enabled me to lay perhaps a whole course of those knowledge bricks. Research may change lives directly by contributing to clinical treatments that improve the quality of life, ease suffering or perhaps cure disease. Everyone who is involved research hankers to do this at some level, and those of us who would think of ourselves as carrying out “basic science” strive to find the translational link that moves our work from the abstract but interesting, to a state where it impacts upon human health and wellbeing.
In the shadow of these personal and more global effects of research, it is easy to overlook the impact that is perhaps most important of all. The research we do changes lives by inspiring others. We live in the information age, where access to research papers, research findings and ideas is easier than it has ever been. The work that we publish has the capacity to set new challenges to the new generation of scientists; to excite the imagination and; trigger innovation. Coupled with the rapid changes in technology, the clues that we leave sitting in that big wall of human knowledge may translate into impacts upon human health, societal change and the global good much faster than we can imagine.
The final measurements I made 20 years ago this week have led to another 90 papers of my own, spawned the studies of research collaborators and rivals the world over, formed the springboard for more than a dozen PhD students who have worked with me since, have informed undergraduate students learning and so much more. I don’t mind saying that I feel quite proud of myself.
How will your research change lives?