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What should I study to become a medical researcher?

  1. Feb 5, 2016 #1
    I want to create a breakthrough in medical field by introducing a new cure for a deadly disease and I heard that chemical engineering can be useful in doing research about cures.And am in India doing my high school.I just want to know what I should do next to make my dream come true.Should I do chemical engineering in one of the IIT's in India which is amoung the top 20 colleges in the world or should I earn my MBBS and MD degrees?
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 5, 2016
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 5, 2016 #2
  4. Feb 5, 2016 #3


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    While curing a deadly disease is certainly an admirable goal, it's also very broad and non-specific.

    There are lots of fields that make contributions to medicine. If you're interested in dealing with patients directly, then pursuing the MD (or MBBS) is probably the best option. There are a lot of branches to from there that deal with specific diseases, but most often the front line medical doctors aren't so much the ones developing the cures as they are the professional that administer existing cures once they've been developed by other scientists.

    As far as the scientists go who work on the cures and management strategies, you've got a veryt broad choice as well. For example if you're interested in drug development you might want to look at pharmacology, biochemistry, or chemical engineering. If you're interested in applications of nanotechnology in medicine, you could look into materials science, chemistry, chemical engineering, physics. I think really you have start by figuring out what kinds of problems you enjoy working on and then growing from there. And remember that we've more-or-less moved past the days of a lone scientist working in a lab trying to discover a cure. Now there are teams of scientists that work together to translate knowledge developed at the fundamental level into experimental models, then clinical trials and eventually translating all of that into the clinic.
  5. Feb 6, 2016 #4
    I heard that they usually study about chemicals used in manufacturing.But I wanna know if it is possible for chemical engineers to do research on medicines for a disease.
  6. Feb 6, 2016 #5


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    Not unless they also receive medical training, especially in the biology of infectious disease.

    A lot of different professionals work with chemicals, but that doesn't necessarily make them chemical engineers.

    Now, if a medical research team has come up with a new drug to fight a disease, this team might consult with chemical engineers on how best to manufacture this substance.
  7. Feb 6, 2016 #6
    Well then what excatly is the medical training required? Is it like the normal medicine courses like MD,MBBS etc..?and also how long will it take to finish all the courses?
  8. Feb 6, 2016 #7
    Well,I seem to be interested in genetics.What do you think that I need to study to become a researcher in that field? I found out that going by the options of MD or MBBS will take more time and huge lumps of money.Is there any other good option?
  9. Feb 6, 2016 #8


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    Beats me. You'd probably have to talk to some actual medical researchers who work in disease research to find the actual qualifications and training required to work in this field. I would try asking someone at a university which has a school of medicine.

    Disease research now involves so much more than experimenting with different chemical compounds, trying to find the "magic bullet" which arrests the progress of the disease, if not providing a cure. A lot of current research, especially for viral diseases, focuses on genetics and sequencing the genomes of disease-causing organisms, which, AFAIK, are not standard subjects in the typical chemical engineering curriculum.
    Last edited: Feb 6, 2016
  10. Feb 6, 2016 #9
    Chemical Engineering is also a common education track for Control Systems Engineers. Control Systems Engineering basically automates processes used in manufacturing. That process can be anything. It can be a metal recycling plant, an assembly line for building cars, an oil refinery, a beer brewery, an electrical generation plant, or even a waste-water treatment plant.

    The manufacture of drugs is supposed to be very heavily regulated and very carefully controlled. The process for manufacturing a batch of drugs can involve biological, chemical, or inert components. It is handled, documented, and certified by systems designed by Control Systems Engineers.

    So yes, if you're looking to get involved in manufacturing a new drug from research to market, a chemical engineering degree is a good start.
  11. Feb 6, 2016 #10
    They have very little overlap. The engineering you get is useless as a researcher.
    The science you get is too fundamental.
    The main thing that helps you is organic chemistry and physical chemistry/reaction kinetics.

    You will not learn enough about the nuances about scientific research as an engineer and you will not learn to do molecular biology, work with antibodies, use microscopes, learn about toxicology, learn about microbiology, learn about drug targets/enzymes, learn to work with cell cultures or even live animals of people.

    Would you hire a MD to run a chemical plant?

    Can you become a medical researcher? Maybe. Can you become one if you become a chemical engineer? No.
    Can you as a chemical engineer work at a company in that produces stuff developed by medical researchers? Sure.
    Do you want to do biomedical engineering? Then at least your engineering way of approaching a problem will help you and your lack of being a proper scientist won't.
  12. Feb 6, 2016 #11
    This is to broad for any advice other than a medical biology of clinical medical research track.

    If you want to do clinical work, it is usually recommended to become a medical doctor, then get a PhD in research. You won't get as much stimulation to become the best researcher you can be, but people overestimate people with MD's over actual medical scientists. Especially true if other MDs are going to do the hiring.
    As far as I know, this is true in most countries.
  13. Feb 6, 2016 #12


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    Well, the bad news is that if you're planning to become a scientist, the road is long and expensive regardless. The MD route is more expensive, because if you want to become a PhD you would usually get paid for graduate school - not a lot - but this is as opposed to shelling out the big bucks for medical school. As a physician, you would make the money back and more.

    If you're interested in genetics, I would look to enroll in a general first year biology or biochemistry program at university and then specialize as you move forward. I don't know much about that system in India, where specialization may happen earlier, but in general I've found that you keep more doors open if you start general and then get more specific as you advance. This also helps you to build a broader base of experience on which to make decisions as you move forward. It's very difficult to decide on the details of an education and career while you're still in high school.
  14. Feb 9, 2016 #13
    I'm working on my PhD in bioengineering now. While we work more on medical devices (machines, implants, prosthetics) rather than pharmaceuticals (chemicals that interact with existing biology), we need the help of all sorts of different people. Our research group members and our close collaborators are chemical engineers, biologists, mechanical engineers, organic chemists, computational mechanical engineers, and all sorts of doctors. I hear from my friends in pharmaceuticals and drug discovery that it's similarly diverse there. They also have a lot of demand for statisticians and biophysicists. Being able to code helps too.

    If you think you'd like to work on the genetics side of drug discovery, you'll definitely need a fair background in biology, and probably some biochemistry or organic chemistry too. Trying out classes now will help you make sure you really like it. (Too much genetics makes my head spin. :D ) But there's lots of avenues you could take. I agree with Choppy; don't feel like you have to pin a specific one down straight away. A friend of mine doing her PhD here in the US graduated IIT computer science and is now working on tissue engineering. Follow the classes you like and are at least decent at, and ask lots of questions about what it's like to be an X or Y. You'll lead yourself to where you need to be.

    I'm biased, but if it's offered, you might want to think about biomedical engineering/bioengineering. You will not become an expert in any one thing with just a BS, but you'll be qualified to take the next step to get deeper into practically anything with a grad or professional program.
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