19.5.09

Mike Darwin on: Whatever Happened to the Future of Medicine

Why the much anticipated medical breakthroughs of the early 21st century are failing to materialize

Saturday 30th May 2009, 2pm-4pm. Room 403 (fourth floor), Birkbeck College, Torrington Square, London WC1E 7HX. There's no charge to attend, and everyone is welcome.

Speaker

Mike Darwin has 30 years experience in cutting edge medical research. Co-founder of the Institute for Advanced Biological Studies, 1977. President of Alcor Life Extension 1983-1988, Research Director 1988-1992. Described by Wikipedia as "Second only to Robert Ettinger as one of the most influential figures in the controversial field of cryonics"

Description of talk

The last half of the 20th Century was a time of explosive growth in growth in high technology medicine. Effective chemotherapy for many microbial diseases, the advent of sophisticated vaccination, the development and application of the corticosteroids, and the development of extracorporeal and cardiovascular prosthetic medicine (cardiopulmonary bypass, hemodialysis, synthetic arterial vascular grafts and cardiac valves) are but a few examples of what can only be described as stunning progress in medicine derived in large measure from translation research.

The closing decades of the last century brought confident predictions from both academic and clinical researchers (scientists and physicians alike) that the opening decade of this century would see, if not definitive cure or control, then certainly the first truly effective therapeutic drugs for cancer, ischemia-reperfusion injury (i.e. heart attack, stroke and cardiac arrest), multisystem organ failure and dysfunction (MSOF/D), immunomodulation (control of rejection and much improved management of autoimmune diseases), oxygen therapeutics and more radically, the perfection of long term organ preservation, widespread use of the total artificial heart (TAH) and the clinical application of the first drugs to slow or moderate biological aging.

However, none of these anticipated gains has materialized, and countless drug trials in humans based on highly successful animal models of MSOF/D, stroke, heart attack, cancer, and immunomodulation have failed. Indeed it may be reasonably argued that the pace of therapeutic advance has slowed. By contrast, the growth of technology and capability in some areas of diagnostic medicine, primarily imaging, has maintained its exponential rate of growth and, while much slower than growth in other areas of technological endeavor, such as communications and consumer electronics, progress has been impressive.

Why has translational research at the cutting edge of medicine (and in particular in critical care medicine) stalled, or often resulted in clinical trials that had to be halted due to increased morbidity and mortality in the treated patients? The answers to these questions are complex and multifactorial, and deserve careful review.

Renewed success in the application of translational research in humans will require a return to the understanding and acceptance of the inescapable fact that perfection of complex biomedical technologies cannot be modeled solely in the animal or computer research laboratory. The corollary of this understanding must be the acceptance of the unpleasant reality that perfection of novel, let alone revolutionary medical technologies, will require a huge cost in human suffering and sacrifice. The aborted journey of the TAH to widespread clinical application due to the unwillingness on the part of the public, and the now extant bioethical infrastructure in medicine, to accept the years of suffering accompanied by modest, incremental advances towards perfection of this technology, is a good example of what might rightly be described as a societal ‘failure of nerve’ in the face of great benefit at great cost. It may be rightly said, to quote the political revolutionary Delores Ibarruri, that we must once again come to understand that, “It is better to die on our feet than to live on our knees!”

Pre-meeting and post-meeting activities

Why not join some of the UKTA regulars for a drink and/or lunch any time after 12.30pm, in The Marlborough Arms, 36 Torrington Place, London WC1E 7HJ. To find us, look out for a table where there's a copy of James Halperin's book "The First Immortal" displayed. (This book is a well-researched and thought-provoking novel about cryonics.)

Discussion is likely to continue after the event, in a nearby pub, for those who are able to stay.

Room 403 is on the fourth floor (via the main lift) in the main Birkbeck College building, in Torrington Square (which is a pedestrian-only square). Torrington Square is about 10 minutes walk from either Russell Square or Goodge St tube stations.