Anyone who has sat through a thesis defense has heard some variation on the following question: “If you had unlimited funds, what would you do for your next study?”. It’s a good question. Like a lot of researchers, I have various lists of study ideas floating around in notebooks, on my computer, and even on my cell phone. I spend a lot of time daydreaming about different studies – ones that would be feasible during my post doc, ones that will need to wait until I land a tenure-track job, and others that will only be possible if I befriend Mark Zuckerberg.
While I am admittedly more nerdy than the average person, I can’t be the only person who has ever listened to a presentation and thought to myself “Wow, if only we could do ________!”.
So I ask you, people of the internet: If you had unlimited resources (money, lab equipment, trained personnel, participants etc), what study would you run? The study needs to be ethically feasible, but after that you are limited only by your own imagination.
Personally, my ideal study stems from an idea I had after Bob Lustig spoke at one of our lab meetings in Ottawa at the start of my PhD (this is based on my recollection of the presentation, which I think is accurate, but may have morphed with time). If you don’t know him, Dr Lustig is an endocrinologist, and one of the leading “anti sugar” advocates. He argues that we should do all we can to cut sugar (and especially fructose) from our diets, and claims that their inclusion in our diets results in all manner of metabolic disturbance (insulin resistance, weight gain, etc).
Most interesting to me, Dr Lustig also claims that sugar intake can reduce physical activity – his basic argument (if I understand correctly) being that after the blood sugar spike, you get a sugar crash, and no one feels like exercising when they have low blood sugar. And so (the thinking goes) if people were to consume less sugar, they would spontaneously begin to exercise more.
That, to me, is a pretty cool idea. So my ideal study would be to take a bunch of inactive kids who also consume large amounts of sugar (especially in the form of pop, juice, etc). I would measure physical activity and sedentary behaviour levels of all kids at baseline. Then we would randomly reduce the sugar intake of half the kids, and see what happens to their physical activity levels over a period of several months. This sort of study could have really important implications for the way we view energy balance (e.g. can you out-train a bad diet, if the bad diet is actually causing you to train less?), and would be (in my opinion) very cool.
Now it’s your turn. If I gave you unlimited resources, what is the one study you would choose to execute and why?