Unlocking the secrets of human biology

Closing gaps in our understanding of the human body is central for precision health

Letter from the dean

The human body remains a marvelous mystery. While recent advances and technologies have led to significant progress in understanding its biological mechanisms, new questions arise with every discovery.

We are continually seeking to close gaps in our knowledge so we can better understand the processes through which healthy organ systems degenerate into disease, the markers that portend illness, and the interplay of factors that influence the efficacy of treatments.

Lloyd Minor, MD, dean of the Stanford School of Medicine. (Glenn Matsumura photo)
Lloyd Minor, MD, dean of the Stanford School of Medicine. (Photo by Glenn Matsumura)

To answer these questions, we turn to scientists conducting fundamental research. This issue of Stanford Medicine magazine introduces you to some of the detectives at Stanford who are unlocking the secrets of human biology. These innovative investigators are at the very foundation of our precision health vision. Their breakthroughs propel our efforts to create more predictive and preventive health care.

The detective analogy is an apt one, for these scientists will go wherever the biological clues lead them. And today, with research propelled by artificial intelligence and advances in genomics and regenerative medicine, the results could very well open up entirely new fields of study.

I can confidently say that basic research shaped my career. It began with my fascination for the vestibular system, the intricate structure of the inner ear that helps us keep our balance and orient ourselves in space. The curiosity that captivated me was the same innate yearning for discovery and knowledge that characterizes all of our researchers.

I didn’t know then that studying the vestibular system would lead to my discovery of and subsequent treatment for superior canal dehiscence syndrome. However, this underscores the intrinsic value of basic science research. We have no way of predicting how discoveries will play out in the years and decades to come.

“The curiosity that captivated me was the same innate yearning for discovery and knowledge that characterizes all of our researchers.”

While we don’t know where basic research will lead, it’s imperative that we do all in our power to foster the discovery process. From DNA replication research in the 1960s that birthed the biotech industry to genomics research in the 1990s that led to the complete genome sequences of humans, Stanford has a rich history in basic science breakthroughs.

That’s a big reason I’m so excited about Stanford’s Discovery Curriculum, which launched this past fall. Developed by a team of acclaimed teachers and Nobel Prize laureates, this curriculum introduces research to medical students earlier in their training and supports their drive for discovery.

Also, through the Biomedical Innovation Initiative that I established, faculty and students receive targeted, flexible funding that allows them to explore the potential of their imagination and talents. It includes financial support for graduate students’ first four years of training. Postdoctoral and fellowship support enables them to work side by side with senior faculty.

With the time and space and financial freedom to pursue their curiosity, the next generation of physician-scientists will become the leaders of tomorrow.

Stanford and basic science research will always remain inextricably linked. Such research adds to our storehouse of human knowledge and is the foundation for the solutions that will overcome today’s most significant challenges in health care.

The world is a healthier place because of Stanford’s basic scientists. I’m proud of all they have accomplished and their ongoing and outsized impact on human health.


Lloyd Minor, MD

Carl and Elizabeth Naumann Dean of the School of Medicine

Professor of Otolaryngology — Head & Neck Surgery