Clinical researchers study human diseases and conditions intending to improve human health. Many scientists lead biomedical research to propel knowledge of basic processes such as how molecules and cells work within the human body; others study things outside the body that may affect human health, including bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Of course, education is important, but training is vital, and newly trained Physicians need extensive knowledge and practical experiences, so, clinical training is essential for this profession.
On numerous occasions, physician-scientists have revolutionized medicine by finding a problem in the clinic and taking it to the lab to solve it. Alexander Fleming watched men die of sepsis during World War I while serving in the Royal Army Medical Corps, which inspired the discovery of penicillin. Sidney Farber, a young doctor at Children's Hospital in Boston, helped to discover therapies for childhood leukemia and established the foundation for chemotherapy. Today, Dr. Brian S. Kim was inspired by patients who suffer from intractable chronic itching to discover new molecules in nerves that cause itching, which is advancing new treatments for patients.
Dr. Kim, a leading physician-scientist and Associate Professor of Medicine at Washington University School of Medicine discovered that blocking the enzyme JAK1 in the nervous system could relieve itch. Utilizing a medication called tofacitinib that is a drug to block JAK1 (and other JAK proteins), initially used for rheumatoid arthritis, Dr. Kim delivered relief to afflicted patients.
Dr. Brian Kim completed his Dermatology Residency at the University of Pennsylvania and became a Clinical Instructor in 2011. In 2014; he joined the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis as an Assistant Professor of Medicine (Dermatology), Pathology and Immunology, and Anesthesiology. The same year, he was appointed as the Co-Director of the Center for the Study of Itch and Sensory Disorders at Washington University School of Medicine. Using his research to bring unprecedented new solutions for chronic itch, he has made seminal discoveries in the fields of neuroimmunology, skin inflammation, and atopic dermatitis. Dr. Kim likewise sits on the Scientific Advisory Board of 'Cell Reports Medicine' and 'National Eczema Association.'
However, Dr. Kim is concerned that physician-scientists are a rare and dying breed due to so many barriers, both scientifically and clinically. The increasing demands on both ends result in many physician-scientists having to choose to focus on clinical care rather than scientific discovery.
In recent years, the career path of the physician-scientist has become longer and more arduous. In the United States, around 20,000 students graduate from medical school every year and with a tremendous amount of debt. Many doctors are well into their 30s when they complete their clinical training. Specialists who choose to take the research path face the daunting possibility of many more years battling to win grants and build up a lab.
Physician-scientists are among the most exceptionally trained specialists in disease-oriented research. Their efforts are often significant to improving medical care as their scientific pursuits are often directed at specific diseases. Our world needs a ‘corps of experts’ who carries comprehension of human disease and patient suffering to basic and clinical research with a scientist's perspective.
Dr. Kim underscores the need to ensure that the most brilliant doctors not only take excellent care of their patients but add new knowledge to help patients they will never have the opportunity to encounter through the development of new therapies. If not, we hazard slowing down the engine that accelerates paths to better medicines, longer lives, and better quality of life. This has been particularly evident during the COVID-19 pandemic when many physician-scientists helped to develop new vaccines and shape public health policy to minimize human suffering.
Today, due to the many efforts of these pioneers, we now have a vaccine, are flattening the curve of the pandemic and looking to a brighter future. However, looking beyond the pandemic, physician-scientists are essential to quickly resolve many of the greatest medical problems in other fields as well, including cancer, autoimmunity, and allergy…and even itch!