If you cannot sell the science, it is like it was not discovered (#provocativeoverstatement)

“Gut science” became a thing during the last decade. I remember when a colleague told me at a medical conference (AACC) how healthy gut bacteria had the potential to improve and even reverse diabetes type II or have an impact in patients with schizophrenia. I thought they were telling me a joke, as one of the proposed cures was to implant healthy fecal matter from a carefully selected donor. I laughed hard … then I read more. Ten years later it is now commonplace to discuss how better diet (for “better” read “more varied”) improves bacterial flora resulting in measurable health benefits.

The transfer of healthy fecal matter (I know … the thought …) into the gastrointestinal tract of an unhealthy recipient has been proven to treat people with intestinal conditions, including the superbug Clostridium difficile colitis, or C. diff — which can cause diarrhea, sepsis, and even death.

The impact of modern diets (sometimes called “Western diets” although the issue is global in developed nations) has affected humankind across vital areas: economy of crops and deforestation, health deterioration, longevity, diabetes, famines, biodiversity in the planet, climate impact.

So how come “gut science” has not boomed yet after 10 years? Try telling a potential public funding body or investor that you need several millions to research the selection of healthy poo for future transplantation into individuals and how some patients will improve eventually and some not. … If you cannot “sell the science” well, funding does not come and research progresses too slowly, becoming tarnished with the unfair stigma of “still unproven after many years.” 

In a few years we’ll celebrate one century of the discovery of penicillin. If we think selling the science of bacterial fecal matter is difficult, just picture the antibiotic pioneers asking for funding to extract an injectable cure for severe infections, that it comes from a mold, even better if you get it from a moldy cantaloupe melon. It took from 1928 until 1943 for serious development funding to arrive.

Antibiotics pioneers eventually were able to show a fast relation between action and effect: inject a seriously ill patient, see the improvement within a day, stop the treatment, patient deteriorates. Fast action to result works very well for homo sapiens brains to react. The problem being that in health technologies it seems we already found the fast-acting solutions, and the slow-acting ones (liquid biopsy or gut science to name a few) require time to show their benefits across a big population, and not always individually.

So, what are my reflections: if a good scientist says “I inject people with poo, some issues improve in a few years, not always, but very many”… they are not going to get funding and a decade passes with little progress. The scientific community must find ways to powerfully explain the magnificent benefits of novel science for it to flourish. And if we think we have it difficult nowadays to get good science into practice, just read about the struggles of the antibiotics pioneers.

From their inspiration I know how good science, well communicated, always succeeds.

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