Is Humanity At The Threshold Of Curing Or Managing All Diseases?
In a rapidly changing world, where artificial intelligence is sold to be the next best thing that humanity has created, we should also give rise to another profound question - if it’s possible to completely manage health in a way also unimaginable a few years ago. Becoming something like a *technological chimera* is one thing, but curing diseases before changing parts of our body should be another real area of interest. $$!ad_code_content_spilt_video_ad!$$ Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan also do think it’s time to “invest in basic science research with the goal of curing disease.” They not only announced this ambitious project, but backed it up with [a plan to invest $3 billion](http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2016/09/mark-zuckerberg-priscilla-chan-donation) over 10 years targeted at four major groups of illnesses: cancer, infectious diseases, heart- and finally neurological diseases. $$!ad_code_content_spilt_video_ad!$$ In our current system, it might of course not be possible to absolutely rid the world of all disease, but the ambition to do so, is laudable. In order to dig deeper and understand the issue at hand, we should start with the fundamental question if it’s really possible to find cures for all diseases? According to most scientists, it will be achieved at some not so distant point, but depends very much on which ones we’re trying to cure. Despite the fact we’re are far from healing the most pressing illnesses, we are actually getting pretty close in our understanding of the causes of disease. Let’s take infectious disease, where the objective is to *cure, prevent, and manage*. Handling these is a problematic and complex scientific field. Pathogens, which account for any infectious disease ‘bugs’ like bacteria, viruses, or other microorganisms do evolve while we speak. Immunology and infectious diseases researcher Eric Rubin, at Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health, says that pathogens evolve at different rates and the ones that evolve at a slow rate, like some bacterium can be cured easily. But addressing swiftly evolving pathogens like the flu is considerably more challenging! Rubin, who by the way is *optimistic* about Zuckerberg’s $3 billion project, adds that “the influenza virus that infects us every year is different from the influenza virus from last year, [...] In fact, it’s different from multiple different (flu) viruses circulating at any given time.” Due to the various degrees of change, the immunity we still have, might protect us, but if the changes happen to be large, our pre-existing immunity is just not enough. Admittedly, rapidly evolving pathogens can of course be moderated, says Rubin. A weak spot of pathogens resisting somethings lays in their fragile ability to grow and thus, cause illness. So, even though we are not (yet) able to stop pathogens and infectious diseases, we can nonetheless create an environment where they can be controlled. Francis S. Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health, recently weighed in on the matter saying: > “We will not banish infectious disease from Earth but we will have strategies to quickly combat them if they do emerge […] I do think what we can do is to develop an increasingly nimble system to identify the emergence of new infectious disease problems and quickly put in place the kind of prevention and treatment strategies that will be needed. We are already accelerating that pace.” Then there’s cancer and things clear up a bit. There are well over 100 different types of cancer, impacting us differently. Cancer is related to a multitude of factors such as age, sex, ethnicity or geographic location, but the progress being made is substantial. Ronald DePinho, president of The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center claims that: > “Even though it’s 200 plus diseases, with the trajectory we are on now, in the next couple of decades, we are going to have a tremendous amount of progress being made in managing cancer and for an increasing large number of patients, curing (it)” DePinho is obviously very optimistic about the current progress being made in preventing, detecting, and treating cancer, but concedes that the single largest obstacle to help all potential patients is a “disparity gap” in access and quality of care. Once again, as it has been throughout our history, the biggest issue humanity faces in treating and ultimately defeating cancer is the *access* itself. > “Cancer will always be with us because advancing age is the most important instigator for the development of cancer. It’ll be with us,” says DePinho. “The biggest issue we’re going to face in cancer is not so much the blueprint to prevent, detect or manage disease, but the access.” Getting back to the $3 billion donation and according to Collins and the National Institutes of Health, curing (all) diseases may vary from condition to condition, but remains a feasible ambition even in our lifetime or, at least, in the lives of our offspring. > “It’s a bold audacious goal, but I like audacious goals, and I think developing cures for all diseases is certainly something that we could imagine happening in the course of this century […] Whether we would successfully apply those to every person who is afflicted is another question but research ought to be able to tackle everything we see in front of us with all the vigor that we got.”
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