QUB team close to great leap forward
Many ground-breaking scientific discoveries have been the result of a combination of lateral thinking and luck and it seems researchers at Queen's University in Belfast could be on the verge of some astonishing developments thanks to such a combination. Unlikely as it might appear, the secretions on the skins of some exotic frogs and toads could hold the key to managing, if not curing, a wide range of health problems.
Not surprisingly, the researchers are very excited by their discoveries, which could transform the way we deal with potentially deadly diseases and conditions such as cancer, diabetes, strokes and heart attacks. Since these account for the vast majority of premature deaths, new treatment regimes could greatly enhance life expectancy and the quality of life for hundreds of millions of people throughout the world.
Of course it will take time to bring these discoveries from the laboratory to everyday treatments and this should temper any premature predictions of cures. However that should not prevent us hailing the work of these researchers and the many others who often labour unheralded to understand how diseases work and to find new treatments or potential cures. Much of their work may end in disappointment, but occasionally great advances are made which benefit the entire world.
In Northern Ireland we often neglect to praise those responsible for pioneering developments in health or other fields of endeavour. We are inclined to hide our achievements under a cloak of modesty when we should be making quite a noise about them. That is especially true in these times of austerity when our universities - which account for a huge proportion of the research and development work carried out in the province - are facing a funding crisis.
The work of these researchers at Queen's - like their counterparts at the University of Ulster - is dependent on adequate funding and that is an issue that the new Executive at Stormont must face up to immediately. Research is the driving force behind the knowledge economy which offers the best hope of high value employment in the province in the coming decades.