It’s really, really hard to do. The newest issue of Science magazine has a perspective over cystic fibrosis (academic subscription required). It was 20 years ago that the gene responsible for the disease was discovered. Even more exciting, a particular mutation responsible for the disease was also identified at the time. Back then, it seemed like the breakthrough that everyone wanted, and greatly simplified what had been a mysterious disease. However, in the 20 years since, not a single therapy based on that gene and its mutations has emerged. More aggressive and earlier treatment have raised the median survival from 29 to 37, but progress has certainly been slower than researchers had expected or hoped.
I bring this up because it’s always worth remembering. On the spectrum of basic science to medical treatment, my own research is very far towards the basic research end. It has implications for cancer, and we mention that in every paper and every grant application, but the bottom line is we are lucky if any of our work ever benefits people at any distant point in the future.