The superficial science
March 28th 2011, 15:47 | Bryan Hubbard
Philosophy is the art of asking the difficult question, and it is the engine room of most of the sciences. Physicists, astrophysicists and biologists, for instance, are driven by the quest to understand the complexity of life and how it began.
Medicine, on the other hand, doesn't ask the fundamental questions. It's down to the patient to be the philosopher in the relationship with his or her doctor. Told that you have a life-threatening condition, the first - and most obvious - questions are: why do I have the disease, and how did it start?
The doctor isn't interested in the whys and wherefores. Instead, he is trained to examine the presenting symptoms and come to a diagnosis as quickly as possible so that treatment can begin.
As a result, medicine will always be a superficial science, if it can even be considered a science. It treats symptoms - it makes life bearable and comfortable for the patient - but it rarely cures. It is only when medicine looks beyond the immediate symptoms that a cure becomes possible.
One example is multiple sclerosis (MS), a disease that seems to affect a tiny minority of people, and the subject of our special report this month (WDDTY, April 2011 - for subscriptions, see: http://www.mcssl.com/SecureCart/ViewCart.aspx?mid=1C466A3E-932D-4B3E-87E7-F916476CE7B7&sctoken=1247346512c44cdda4f48b4a8154a546&bhcp=1
Medicine doesn't understand the cause of MS beyond suggesting it is an autoimmune inflammatory disease, possibly due to genetic factors but more likely the result of stress or infection.
When his wife developed the condition, Paolo Zamboni, a professor of vascular disease, wasn't prepared to accept the prognosis of inevitable decline. When he investigated, he discovered that 90 per cent of MS sufferers had blocked cerebral veins, which caused blood to flow back and leave iron deposits in the brain. This, he conjectured, could be a cause of inflammation.
Hundreds of MS sufferers have undergone the Zamboni therapy of cerebral vein angioplasty, often with startling results. Despite these successes, researchers have been unable to find any link between blocked veins and MS, and Zamboni's work is now being discredited.
Nonetheless, Zamboni asked the question, and he has taken the MS debate to a new level. Thanks to his investigations, we do know there is some association between the functioning of the venous system and diseases of the central nervous system. This suggests that several neurodegenerative diseases have a common genesis - and that MS, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and dementia are related, and the result of degeneration and inflammation.
We are beginning to understand that the neurodegenerative conditions are not autoimmune diseases, but autoimmune responses. MS, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's are not progressive and incurable, but diseases that can be controlled and reversed once the response trigger has been identified.
It's amazing what you learn when you start asking the basic questions.