I recently came across an interview with Siddhartha Mukherjee, the Indian-American physician, oncologist and author of The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer. I would like to share his thoughts.
His ideas show how medical research could be changing its analytical paradigm and how this change might open a path to better care for people, particularly for those who are suffering from diseases like AS, which are currently considered incurable.
According to Dr. Mukherjee current medical treatment boils down to six words: Have disease, take pill, kill something. This approach goes back to the extraordinary success of treatments after the discovery of antibiotics. It worked so well, that it became the basic approach to the treatment of disease, not only for diseases caused by bacteria and viruses, but also in non-communicable diseases. Indeed the treatment of AS using biologic drugs is also based on this idea. These drugs aim to stop the immune system mistakenly attacking itself by blocking the activity of a naturally occurring protein in the body (TNF-alpha), which is a key communicator driving the damaging inflammatory processes in many – but it seems not all – cases of AS. To paraphrase Dr. Mukherjee it’s Have AS, get injection or infusion, block TNF-alpha.
Dr Mukherjee believes that this model of Disease – Target – Kill still has an essential role to play, but there are many other areas that are not researched as much, but are just as important. What about the environment that the diseased organism lives in? What about the immediate cellular surroundings in the diseased area? What are the connections between cells that sustain normal physiological interactions in life; and how and why do they change in disease?
Aren’t these exactly the questions that lie behind many of our thoughts when we share ideas on a Facebook discussion forum, or a blog, about what makes us sick, or keeps the pain away?
If we could answer these questions we might show how things like air pollution, or stress or unhappiness affect the likelihood of getting Arthritis. It would lead to regenerative medicine, e.g. rebuilding cartilege in Osteoarthritis instead of replacing joints; and to nutritional medicine, e.g. finding out whether some foods can trigger Arthritis or protect you against it; and best of all to preventive medicine, to stop disease even breaking out.
It seems to me that Dr. Mukherjee is explaining a way for medical research to look at well-known diseases from a new perspective. I find that really exciting and can recommend his TED Talk, where he actually used the example of rebuilding cartilage to combat Arthritis to demonstrate how it’s being applied.
And by the way, my TEDx Talk is also finally online. Please do watch it and pass it on to anybody who might be interested.
Have a great week, and get in touch, if you feel like it.