Every scientist starts out looking for one thing, but sometimes finds something else along the way.
On Monday, newly minted Nobel laureate William G. Kaelin described a decades-long scientific journey that was like that. It started as an exploration of a condition that can lead to kidney cancer but resulted in a prize-winning discovery about how cells recognize and regulate the oxygen needed to survive, a discovery whose most tangible fruit is a drug to treat anemia.
“I’m a cancer biologist and a cancer physician, but the first truly unique thing coming out of my lab was for anemia,” Kaelin said during a late-morning news conference at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.
The unexpected application shows the importance of basic research and curiosity-driven science — undervalued today in a culture that often wants to know what results to expect before the work is underway, and leaves little room to pursue the unknown, Kaelin said.