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Job Skills What do I study to find cures for diseases?

  1. Mar 17, 2016 #1
    I am confused whether I should study medicine or bioengineering.
    And also I hate math.Considering it,what's the route that I should take ?
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 17, 2016 #2
    I would think something in the medical field, say Immunology, would be slightly less math heavy than anything with engineering in the title.
    I struggle with math myself, but it is an extremely powerful tool.

    Best of luck with whichever path you choose.
    J Mc
  4. Mar 17, 2016 #3


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    Neither, if you hate mathematics.
  5. Mar 17, 2016 #4
    Thank you !
  6. Mar 17, 2016 #5
    There are lots of potential avenues here. If you are good at chemistry, there are a variety of potential fields of study such as pharmacology. Or you could go in for genomics or immunology, fields that are considered to be more biology, with lots of organic chemistry.
  7. Mar 19, 2016 #6
    I'd suggest facing your fears and getting really good at math. I minored in both mathematics and biology and continued to take graduate level courses in both subjects in when I was studying for my masters degree in physics. Believe me when I say that there's a lot of interesting overlap in those subjects. You can use math to understand how diseases spread in populations, how they spread in an individuals body, and to predict safe doses of medicine, radiation, and other such things that are used to fight various illnesses. @Ben Espen is correct, all of those fields he suggests would be great choices, but all of those subjects have one thing in common: lots and lots of math.
  8. Mar 20, 2016 #7
    How about the medicine field ?.Something like earning MD in oncology or pathology ? I think it is easier for me to get into a good med school,become a professional medical practitioner and then resume as a researcher in any of my areas of interest such as diseases.
    I am not sure whether I want to become a doctor or a researcher.Both look equally interesting to me. So Does this route sound good to you or am I likely to encounter problems that I have never heard of ?
  9. Mar 20, 2016 #8
    There aren't that many MDs who do research. When they do, they often have an MD/PhD dual degree. Right now, medicine heavily emphasizes practice. Which isn't to say it cannot be done, but this is against trend at present.
  10. Mar 20, 2016 #9


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    The way the medicine profession works in North America is that you first complete an undergraduate degree including some general prerequisite courses (a survey of first/second year science courses - biology, organic chemistry, etc.) and then you get admitted to a professional MD program. The actual undergraduate degree doesn't really matter so long as you cover the prerequisites. Its common for people to focus on biochemistry, but that's not always the case. Physics grads can get in, for example.

    The MD is typically a 4 year program. After that MDs specialize doing a residency that can range from a couple years for family medicine to five years or more for something like radiation oncology or surgical specialties. Sometimes that will even be followed by a fellowship which fosters even further specialization.

    On top of that there can be opportunities for research. Some MDs will get into an MD/PhD program that extends the MD degree, but incorporates a strong research component. The student will complete a thesis, for example, much in the same way a regular PhD student does. Typically these programs tend to have a strong biochemistry slant, but details vary by school.

    Most commonly MDs will be involved with research in terms of clinical trials. So "curing disease" can have a lot of different stages. Typically you start at the theoretical side - generating ideas for what "might" work. Then you move into basic experiments - working with cells and then animal models. Once you have evidence that a treatment works on mice, for example, you can start into clinical trials on patients. These occur in various stages - determining safe dosages, determining effects on people afflicted with the disease, and comparing the new treatment with existing treatments, etc. Clinical trails require an MD, because they involve patients so they need MDs to monitor response, and to properly advocate for the patients, among other regions.

    So remember that curing disease is not something that's done by a single person in a lab. It's a team effort.
  11. Mar 20, 2016 #10
    Thank you ! Do you think I can deal with math if I take your route ? Becoming a biomedical engineer ? One of my friend told me that I would only have to break my head with math for the admission to colleges.Once that is done,Bioengineering is all about DNA and RNA.No more math tragedy.Is that true ?
  12. Mar 20, 2016 #11
    Bioengineering, well it will include a lot of math: all engineering degrees from reputed colleges seem to have the same level of math covered like for example mechanical and electrical engineers would definitely have studied the same level of math at the very least. I was looking at bioengineerng curriculum one day and it seems to be a mix of mechanical engineering topics: thermodynamics, mechanical design, calclus 1-3, algebra 1,2, linear algebra, physics one and two..so yes. Bioengineering is not squarely about DNA or RNA, its a mix of engineering topics and biology topics. I guess I would say, there are math, design, and natural science fundamentals that are common for many engineering degrees..so expect a decent amount of math at reputed universities.

    example: Some colleges have a common "core" group of modules, like the first year is common for everyone studying engineering and it incudes a fair amount of difficult/highly difficult math.
  13. Mar 21, 2016 #12
    Thank you so much !
  14. Mar 21, 2016 #13
    Honestly, no, I would not say that is true. You will commonly hear that you don't use all of the math you learn in school in the workplace. This is true in my case. The hard part is knowing which parts you are going to end up using. That is part of the reason why the math requirements in school for engineering are so broad. But more importantly, the quantitative understanding you gain by studying these subjects is critical to success in any engineering field. In twelve years I've never needed to formally solve a PDE to get something done. Yet I am constantly doing them in my head to understand what I am looking at.

    Because of the sector I work in, I've never once done anything relating to DNA. I work with mechanical and chemical processes, and the outputs of those processes. There are bioengineering roles that are heavier in cellular manipulation that mine, but I suspect the amount of math is similar, even though the specifics differ.
  15. Mar 21, 2016 #14
    My contribution: linear algebra, and statistics, more than just a survey. Three or four courses. Add differential equations to be safe.
  16. Mar 21, 2016 #15
    Thank you !
  17. Mar 24, 2016 #16


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    I'm not sure if some people read the OP correctly. The OP doesn't say s/he wants to cure diseases, it says s/he wants to find cures for diseases. That's research, not medicine. I would think the two most appropriate degrees are biology and chemistry.

    You should try browsing Monster.com for the types of jobs that would interest you and look at their requirements.
  18. Mar 25, 2016 #17
    One area of research is looking for plants, animals, fungi, and archea in jungles and deserts. Biology and chemistry, perhaps with minimal geology, would be good. A treatment for Diabetes Type II was found in the saliva of Gila monsters. That required some dedication and steely nerves.
  19. Mar 25, 2016 #18

    You should study biomedical science/medical biology/molecular biology or pharmaceutical sciences.

    Though there are other ways through bioinformatics, biochemistry, organic chemistry, physical chemistry. And in a sence indeed you too can consider doing an MD or medical physics and maybe also biomedical engineering. Just remember biomedical engineering is an engineering discipline, not a research discipline.

    Geology? Really? Just 'looking for plants, animals, fungi', that's not really what it is about. Biologists and biochemists study that. When they find something, think an enzyme, gene or molecule, potentially medically interesting, they hand it over.
    If you want to go into nature and find new interesting things, or study them thoroughly when a biologist found it, then do that. But it won't be the same finding a cure for a disease.

    Half finding a cure for a disease means finding what is going wrong. It means growing live organisms, usually with knockout genes, and trying different things and see what is expressed and how it is controlled biochemically.

    Of course, it depends on what you mean by 'finding a cure'. If you mean being the first to find the molecule? Or if you are the first one 10-40 years and 2-8 billion euro's later, putting the cure on the market.
    Last edited: Mar 25, 2016
  20. Mar 25, 2016 #19
    OK, then tell all that to companies sending out botanist and zoologists, not engineers and bioinformatics specialists to rain forests & deserts. You think the "lizard spit " treatment for DM2 now sold under the name Byetta was found by a medical physicist looking down the throat of a Gila monster? A little geology does not hurt when looking for where to look for interesting species. We already know much of what's going wrong with diabetes and many other diseases. If you don't find the molecule, no one is going to spend any time putting the cure on the market. The people looking already have an idea of what kinds of things to look, usually, but not always. And my example was just one of the ways someone can be involved in looking for cures.
    End of discussion.
  21. Mar 25, 2016 #20
    It doesn't work like that. If you are a diabetes researcher and looking to cure diabetes, you don't go out into the forest, let alone the desert, looking for interesting species. That is several magnitudes worse than looking for a needle in a haystack. The phase space of organic molecules or peptides/protein is just way way way too big.

    A zoologist that works with gila monsters, because that is what she/he does, may find something interesting about their spit. They may team up with a biochemist and look what that spit actually is. They publish. Then, some academic working on diabetes thinks it may have a link to her/his disease, look into it.
    Then, a corporation comes in, takes that research line and spends 10 billion developing it in a drug.

    How do you find interesting proteins? You search databases of known genetic sequences. If you want to find a new protein that binds a certain receptor, you search the genome for genes that look like the genes of proteins you already know bind the receptor.

    I don't know how geology is going to help finding species as a zoologist. You mean geography?

    End of discussion? Lol
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