Scientific research is expensive.
That's one reason drug companies are more inclined to research cures that will bring in some profits. They don't have as much incentive to work on cures for diseases that are rare.
As for other types of scientific research, there are so many interesting and worthy projects, but only so much in traditional funding to go around. For instance, the National Institutes of Health funds only 18% of research projects that come its way, compared to 30% in 2003.
That's why more obscure projects such as studying new ant species in Madagascar might need to seek more unconventional funding.
Enter the Internet and the new trend in crowdfunding.
Scientific research projects are starting to appeal to science enthusiasts to support their projects, and some crowdfunding sites focused specifically on science research projects have begun to pop up -- namely, PetriDish and Mycroryza.
Here are some examples of scientific research projects that have sought funding on sites like these and on more general crowdfunding sites such as Indiegogo and Rockethub:
- University of West Florida anthropologist Kristina Killgrove raised nearly $11,000 on RocketHub to analyze the DNA of Roman skeletons.
- A California Academy of Sciences project to study ants in Madagascar received just over $10,000 via PetriDish.
- On Mycrocryza, a project by the Wormfree World Institute had raised nearly $8,000 of its $15,000 goal to fund research to eradicate parasitic worms in humans.
A project that could have saved Steve Jobs
One project that's gotten some buzz is a project to work on a vaccine that could have cured the cancer that killed Apple founder Steve Jobs. He had a neuroendocrine tumor (NET) that usually can't be cured with chemotherapy.
However, a freezer in Sweden may have a cure: a genetically engineered virus that replicates inside a NET and kills it. The NET-killer is promising but hasn't found any pharmaceutical companies willing to further develop it, partly because of the cost and also because the founders don't have strong patent protections on it.
As of this writing, the group has raised $85,000 on IndieGogo for what they've named their iCancer campaign. The sum is impressive, but this is just a tiny fraction of their overall goal of $1.6 million. Why the expense? They are looking to conduct a clinical trial in one individual. And if that sounds like a very small step, you would be right. There's a whole host of other things that would need to happen to bring this to market. Fast Company reports:
If the iCancer campaign can get enough cash to push the virus to clinical trials, that doesn’t necessarily mean anything will go to market. The phase one trial will look for toxicity, the phase two trials look for efficacy, and in the phase three trial, other institutions have to repeat the findings from the Uppsala lab. The whole process can take up to 15 years before a commercial product is ready. At any point, the trials could be foiled. But there’s just no way to know without trying.
And guess what, if you thought phase one was expensive, phase three could be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. But by then, hopefully a pharmaceutial company would be interested. If so, it would certainly represent a new milestone for the role of crowdfunding in scientific research.
Related on SmartPlanet:
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- How the internet is changing the science of psychology
- Crowdfunding sites want to help pay your medical bills
- Help fund the science you want to see with PetriDish.org
- Study shows pervasive gender bias in science
- Scientists newest way to gather data? Enlist hikers
- 'Dark matter' DNA could boost drug research
- Will defense budget cuts hurt science and innovation?