Doing research without deep knowledge

Molecular modelling

Dear Professor Jeltsch,
My name is Shahid, and I am studying Medicine. I am interested in molecular biology and biochemistry. Sadly, my curriculum does not include many modern molecular biology research techniques. Still, I want to learn about this area to the extent that makes me comfortable putting forward a hypothesis and a possible treatment for a disease. My goal would be to test this hypothesis with the help of a research team of molecular biologists and other experts. Therefore, I don't need deep knowledge. With this letter, I am asking a professional researcher like you to point me to resources that would allow me to acquire the necessary expertise for such an endeavor. What would be suitable books or materials to study? I should also mention that I have access to all the significant scientific publishers via our university library.

Thanks for our assistance,

I received the above request via email a few months back. I always encourage students to go beyond what the curriculum offers. That is not to say that a good "run-of-the-mill" education does not enable you to be part of a productive team. But without going beyond the curriculum, it isn't easy these days to have any lasting impact on anything. So far, so good. The red flag in the above email is this sentence: "Therefore, I don't need deep knowledge."
When treating most diseases, low-hanging fruits have been picked. There are two approaches when trying to reach the high-hanging fruits:

  • Incremental advances. We have reasonably good therapies for many diseases. To name diabetes: Exactly 100 years ago - in 1922 - we converted it from a deadly disease into a condition that enables most patients to live a relatively normal life. Everything we are developing since is incremental. These incremental advances require a deep understanding of the disease beyond the obvious replacement or enhancement of insufficient insulin signaling. Often, advances are based on new insights into the molecular mechanism of the disease. For example, diabetic retinopathy became manageable after the molecular mechanisms of angiogenesis were uncovered and antiangiogenic agents developed.
  • Game-changing new therapies. These require paradigm-shifting discoveries. Think about neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's or Parkinson's disease. Thousands of intelligent people have been trying to make inroads into their treatment with little success. It's precisely the deep insight into the early molecular etiology of these diseases that we need but is currently lacking.

How do you want to direct a research team without having deep insight? Team leaders in pharmaceutical companies are not just "administrating" research! First, they mostly have an educational science background that allows them to understand the research. But more importantly, they are hiring top talent and deep insight to direct research.
Unless you are in a position to compete with these companies for these top talents, you will need to acquire deep knowledge yourself. This is how small startups operate. In early development, the founders are mostly profoundly involved in problem-solving. Only after the technology has been established managing research and doing research become incrementally separated.