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ASIP.org > BLOG > August 2015

ASIP Pathogenesis Blog, August 2015

President's Perspective. . .The Future of the Field
William B. Coleman, PhD, ASIP President

From time to time, it is a healthy exercise to consider the future of our field by reflecting on how it has changed recently and speculating on how it might change moving forward. By taking a look at the current state and evolving landscape of the field, we can anticipate the shifting needs of the membership of the American Society for Investigative Pathology, and the programs and services our society provides to the membership. In undertaking this sort of exercise, it is critical to consider questions that go beyond "...what is the future of the field..., to include who is the future of the field, where is the future of the field, and how will the future of the field unfold.

What Is Our Field?
As a society, the ASIP has an eclectic membership that includes individuals that participate in clinical pathology (clinicians and physician-scientists), as well as individuals that conduct basic, clinical, and translational research investigations into specific disease processes (basic scientists and physician-scientists). Hence, our membership shares a common interest in human disease which is encompassed in the field of pathology. Pathology is broadly defined as "...the science of the causes and effects of diseases..." and is recognized as the branch of clinical medicine that deals with the laboratory examination of tissues (and other patient-derived samples) for diagnostic purposes. Further, our membership shares a common interest in pathobiology and the scientific exploration of human disease which is encompassed in the field of experimental pathology. Experimental pathology is broadly defined as "...The investigation of mechanisms of disease pathogenesis and progression using multidisciplinary approaches in model systems..." and is recognized as a basic biomedical science that has a focus on human disease. As experimental pathologists, we are extremely diverse in our disease-focused interests and the experimental models and approaches we utilize to address important questions related to disease. A major strength of our field is reflected in our diversity of interests, our varied approaches, and the overall relevance of the results we produce. Our diversity produces strong team science and innovative research collaborations. The diversity that we recognize among experimental pathologists might also be considered a weakness in that we do not all identify with the same subspecialty or even similar subspecialty areas of research. Nonetheless, by embracing our diversity we can take advantage of the opportunity for collaborative cross-fertilization between subspecialty areas of research, as well as the opportunity to exploit different experimental methods, approaches, and strategies that might not be available without strong collaborative interactions.

Who Is the Future of Experimental Pathology?
Experimental pathology encompasses a large number of scientific disciplines, approaches, and model systems. For instance, experimental pathology is (i) the use of genetically-modified mouse models in the study of atherosclerosis, (ii) the application of biochemical methods to the study of cancer epigenetics, or (iii) the utilization of cell biology approaches for the study of viral infection. Numerous other examples could be articulated. Experimental pathologists are individuals who conduct research where the central focus is the elucidation of human disease mechanisms and/or the exploitation of mechanistic insights for development of diagnostics and therapeutics. Experimental pathologists are identifiable based upon their focus on disease, even as their approaches to scientific questions (and their formal training) may vary significantly. The future of experimental pathology belongs to all basic scientists and physician-scientists that share this common human and animal disease interest. Securing the future of experimental pathology depends upon the recruitment of talented and creative scientists into the field. Certainly, recruitment of talented and creative young scientists needs to be a priority to ensure a pipeline of individuals working in the field from trainees to senior investigators. In addition, the field of experimental pathology benefits when established investigators follow their interests into the exploration of human and animal disease by applying their knowledge of biology and biological processes to the study of disease. Individuals are naturally attracted to the field of experimental pathology based upon their own interests and curiosity, but many do not identify with the field. Therefore, recruitment of talented and creative investigators to the field to a great extent reflects bringing individuals who have a disease focus into the community of investigators that identify with experimental pathology (irrespective of the training or affiliation of the individual). This community of investigators exists among the membership of the ASIP and its constituent Scientific Interest Groups. We can all participate in the expansion and strengthening of the field of experimental pathology by recruiting our colleagues and collaborators to join the ASIP, by encouraging young investigators (trainees and others) to make the ASIP their professional home, and through participation in the community of investigators that the ASIP represents to establish new collaborations and contacts.

Where Is the Future of Experimental Pathology?
Traditionally, we have associated experimental pathology with investigators who reside in departments of pathology in academic research centers. Certainly, investigators (trainee, young, and established) from academic departments of pathology have composed the core of ASIP membership and the community of investigators in experimental pathology for many years. However, we increasingly see new members emerge from (i) academic departments other than pathology, (ii) non-academic research institutions, and (iii) the industrial science and biotechnology sectors. The diversity of ASIP membership reflects diversity in research settings as well as diversity of disease interest and research approaches. In some cases, investigators from academic and non-academic settings share common goals, whereas in other cases the goals of research differ. For instance, investigators from the industrial science and biotechnology sectors often conduct translational research projects aimed at development of disease biomarkers and diagnostics or therapeutics and theranostics. These studies originate and extend from research into mechanisms of disease and exploit knowledge of mechanisms for direct patient benefit. In contrast, academic experimental pathologists may be more focused on basic mechanisms. Both basic research and translational research can occur in varied research settings (academic and non-academic), and so we can anticipate that productive experimental pathology research will continue at academic institutions, even as this work expands to other research settings (including for-profit institutions). Hence, we should anticipate that in the future experimental pathology research will be conducted by investigators with diverse training and in diverse research settings. It follows that individuals that are trained in experimental pathology will have ample opportunities to contribute to the research endeavors of academic institutions as well as other types of organizations (including for-profit small biotech startups, contract research organizations, and big pharma). Likewise, individuals that are not trained in experimental pathology but apply their knowledge and skills to the study of human disease might conduct this type of research in departments of pathology or elsewhere.

How Will the Future of Experimental Pathology Unfold?
Experimental pathologists utilize cutting edge methodologies, advanced technologies, and innovative experimental approaches to dissect mechanisms of disease, and creatively exploit known mechanisms for development of disease treatments and diagnostics. As the field of experimental pathology evolves and becomes more diverse (related to investigators and their skills), new approaches and technologies will be utilized in addition to or replacement of more traditional methods. Experimental pathologists have always been quick to embrace new developments and exploit new technologies. The utilization of new technologies will advance the generation of new knowledge related to mechanisms of disease, and will bridge these discoveries to new applications for patient benefit. The relevance of the disease-related research conducted by experimental pathologists will remain high far into the future in keeping with the priorities of the population at-large and the desire to improve the human condition, as well as the well-being of animals, through a greater understanding of disease, how to prevent disease, and how to treat diseases effectively once they develop.

What Is the Future of the Field?
The future of the field of experimental pathology is bright. We find ourselves at a point in history where advanced technologies converge on an extensive knowledge base to address important questions related to human disease with extensive opportunities to translate basic research findings into beneficial diagnostics and treatments for patients. Experimental pathologists work in an area of research that is currently relevant to the human condition and has the potential for significant future impact. Our community of investigators is extensive and growing. While we all need more funding for research, experimental pathologists are creating new ways to accomplish research through cooperation, collaboration, and creativity. Pathology and the study of disease processes is clearly the new biology with broad appeal to young investigators and established investigators alike. The developments and discoveries of the past 5-10 years are sure to pale in comparison to the developments and discoveries that are yet to come.

 

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