I am currently working on a project for migrating the forum of a patient organization to Discourse. The patients on the forum in question are very interested in discussing research related to their syndrome. They have even founded and funded their own Foundation, which primarily focuses on basic science research. Even though researchers are not directly participating in the forum discussions, many of them do consult and study the content. Scientists have presented data coming from the forum in presentations and poster sessions at conferences in the past.
Even though this is not exactly the use case you are presenting, it is at least related. Having been involved with other patient organizations in the past, I know that these groups often have similar core interests: They want to learn about the latest medical advances in their field and discuss studies related to their disease.
The main functionality we are currently missing to serve this need is solid citation functionality for academic publications. In the medical world these would typically be from PubMed, in a more general context one would probably be citing DOI. The main requirements would be:
User can insert citations into his post by entering DOI, PMID, etc.
User can insert a references table at the end of his post, which is automatically generated from the references in his post (see above).
A search functionality, either as extension of the existing search functionality and/or something like a tag/references cloud, would allow users to find posts which reference a specific article. This could also be a references overview page, whereby clicking on a reference link would show a search result list of all posts citing this reference.
(Btw, I am aware of the PubMed onebox functionality in Discourse, it is fantastic.)
The point is: The main vehicle of communication in the academic world is publications. A forum/site which supports academic communication, must optimally support dealing with publications.
In the medical context, researches are often very interested in characterizing large patient cohorts. Forums can be a starting point for this (as has been demonstrated on multiple occasions with this patient group). I am currently investigating the feasibility of developing a Discourse plugin which would allow the patient group I am dealing with to maintain and publish Personal Health Records (basically what they are already doing, but in a more structured form). These would include details about their medical conditions and treatments. Lab results could also be added. The standard for this is called FHIR, which basically describes a json / api based interoperability standard for exchanging and storing medical records (Electronic Health Records = EHR’s).