HUMAN DISEASES (Part 7 of 7)   Leave a comment


Although medical science has made great strides to eradicate disease, a number of ailments remain to be conquered. Medical scientists have not yet discovered what causes muscular dystrophy, an inherited disorder that strikes nerve tissue and cripples its victim. Nor do they know what causes sudden death syndrome, or crib death, a disease that fatally strikes infants less than a year old. Nevertheless, research is under way against these and other baffling diseases in the hope that someday they will be wiped out or at least made manageable.

Medical scientists perform many kinds of experiments when they are on a research adventure. They may grow tiny cells in test tubes, infect them with the germs or chemicals they think might cause the disease, and watch the after effects Or they might infect a laboratory animal with a disease and observe how its body fights off or succumbs to the ailment. At other times medical scientists test the effects of a drug, a pathological environment, or a possible disease organism on human volunteers. However, before human experimentation ethically can be permitted, the volunteers must give their informed consent to any unconventional treatment. That is, they must be fully aware of the harmful as well as helpful consequences possible before taking part in the research. Also, prior experiments should have been made on laboratory animals to establish some idea of the project’s safety.

Medical research is an ongoing endeavour at many laboratories and scientific institutions throughout the world. Medical schools and major hospitals maintain research programs for the benefit of their patients with unchecked or rare diseases. Research programs are also undertaken at many universities where scientists divide their time between teaching and laboratory study. Government agencies such as the National Institutes of Health also engage in research against disease.

Research programs are delving into the problems of ageing As more and more is learned about the biochemical changes that go on in the body as it grows older, scientists may someday be able to modify those changes to ensure better health for the aged. The biochemical basis of certain forms of mental illness are being explored, too, as are the causes and possible remedies of drug abuse.

Some physical disorders still require surgery for correction. As a result, there has been research into improving surgical techniques and into devising artificial parts for the body. Surgeons, for example, have been trying to improve their ability to rejoin severed limbs. Bio engineers have designed heart pacemakers, sensory aids for the blind, and many other spare parts for the body.

The very foundations of life are being explored in genetic engineering. This recent endeavour is an attempt to alter the genetic make-up of developing embryos in the hope that inborn errors of metabolism can be corrected.

Although some scientists doubt that genetic engineering will ever be practical, if it became so, the ability to alter mistaken genes in unborn children would open a remarkable medical frontier. In the meantime, doctors have encouraged genetic counselling, in which couples planning marriage can learn of the possible consequences of childbearing when they are the carriers of certain inherited disorders, such as Down’s syndrome, also called mongolism, or sickle-cell anaemia

Assisted by Theodore R. Van Dellen, M.S., M.D., late Associate Professor of Medicine, Northwestern University, and syndicated medical columnist; Thomas Killip, M.D., Chief of Cardiology and Attending Physician, The New York Hospital; Albert M. Kligman, M.D., Ph.D., Professor of Dermatology, Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia; William C. Thomas, Jr., M.D., Professor of Medicine, University of Florida College of Medicine; Bernard S. Leibel, M.D., Associate Professor of Medicine, University of Toronto; and Daniel J. Feldman, M.D., former Adjunct Professor, College of Medicine, University of California at Irvine.


Berger, Melvin. Germs Make Me Sick! (Harper Junior, 1987).

Berkow, Robert, ed. Merck Manual: General Medicine (Merck, 1987).

Brown, Fern. Hereditary Disease (Watts, 1987).

Eagles, Douglas. Nutritional Diseases (Watts, 1987).

Hansherr, Rosmarie. Children and the AIDS Virus (Ticknor and Fields, 1989).

Hughes, Barbara. Drug Related Diseases (Watts, 1987).

McKeown, Thomas. The Origins of Human Disease (Basil Blackwell, 1988).

Metos, T.H. Communicable Diseases (Watts, 1987).

Zinsser, Hans. Rats, Lice, and History (Little, 1984).


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