A Broad Perspective on Disease

Author: Andrew Rice

To treat disease, we must first have a grasp of the disease’s pathology and mechanism of action. A general understanding of the reactions involved is critical in efficiently designing an efficacious drug or treatment. On one end of this spectrum is smallpox. Smallpox is an infectious disease caused by the virus Variola major. It resulted in characteristic blisters filled with fluid to erupt all across the skin, and often resulted in permanent scarring, blindless, and death. A vaccine for this disease was developed in 1798, but the World Health Organization only began to take a more intense approach to eradicate this disease in 1967. Smallpox has been officially eradicated, and I believe we can learn a great deal from this process.

A more modern concern is Tuberculosis. Caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis, TB has infected approximately 50% of the world’s population. It is most often present as ‘latent TB’, which is asymptomatic. This latent form can spontaneously develop into the active form of Tuberculosis, and this active form has an ~50% chance of survival. Present in many developing countries, TB is the most deadly infectious disease today. Finding treatments for the disease, better understanding how to prevent transition to the active form of TB, and preventing infection in general are of the utmost concern for a future as a planet.

On the other end of the spectrum is Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States. The disease is also one for which there are no available treatments. This is due a a lack of understanding the pathology of the disease. Two competing hypothesis currently dominate the literature – the beta-amyloid hypothesis and the tau hypothesis. Regardless of which is correct, or even if neither is correct, an understanding of the mechanism of action will be critical in the future to treat this disease.

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