Image of the Day: 70 Years of Disease Research

A video chronicles the course of disease research and prompts questions about where scientists may focus their studies in the future.

Amy Schleunes
Amy Schleunes
Jan 21, 2020
An animated video showing the prevalence of scientific studies for specific diseases over the past 70 years
HELDER NAKAYA

Helder Nakaya and his team at the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil used PubMed to analyze more than 29,000,000 articles on disease research over the past 70 years.

“Our goal was to verify if outbreaks could shift research,” says Nakaya in an email to The Scientist. “I expected to see Zika and Ebola among the most studied diseases right after the recent outbreaks but they did not reach the top 20 when all diseases were included.”

Some of the spikes in publication topics surprised Nakaya. “I had no idea that knowledge about HIV/AIDS advanced so quickly after 1985,” he writes. “[S]eeing the rise of ‘Obesity’ from the 2000s and ending at ‘second place’ in 2017 was also very interesting.”

Nakaya concludes that scientists are “publishing way too much and there is no time to read all papers about just one disease. Also, it is very hard to evaluate and ‘quantify’ the quality of research that has been published. And thanks to the difference in disease complexity, having more articles related to a disease does not mean we know more about it.” 

As for the next 70 years of research, Nakaya suspects that chronic inflammatory diseases, burnout syndrome, and diseases associated with climate change may be among those most studied.

Amy Schleunes is an intern at The Scientist. Email her at aschleunes@the-scientist.com