There are scientific advancements that have significant consequences for healthcare and medicine right now. Some of the most confounding diseases in history may be treated or cured if technological growth maintains its current pace. In spite of this, many are skeptical about these advancements as they’re used to relying on past methods of doing things. It seems that there is evidence for these advancements being more effective and efficient than those in the past, however.
That’s where a relatively new kind of science comes into play: epidemiology. It has been described as the science of public health, and it’s a quantitative field that’s being utilized to prevent disease outbreaks. It does this to stand against “-demics” — that is, endemics (geographical outbreaks), epidemics (unexpected excess of a disease outbreak), and pandemics (global outbreaks). It focuses on groups rather than individuals.
Some of the best epidemiological projects are being halted or slowed down. This is due to the aforementioned misconceptions held by people who are misinformed or those who are skeptical of change. In order for us to treat diseases and medical conditions the best we can (and at a widespread level), we need what epidemiology can offer us.
It’s important that we don’t write epidemiological methods off just because they are new. Rather, we should seek to understand what they can give us and test everything with the same scrutiny we would any other kind of science. But how do we get to a place where epidemiology is more accepted across the board?
Deconstructing Vaccine Misconceptions
Epidemiological evidence has given us quite a bit of information about vaccinations. As you may be aware, vaccines have been a touchy issue in the public arena as of late. This is frustrating to many medical professionals because the reasons for this backlash are not evidence-based. While anti-vaccination circles blame the use of vaccines for the spread of diseases and autism, the science has been overwhelmingly positive in vaccinations favor. Still, anti-vaccination movements have stuck around for decades in opposition to the evidence at hand.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has worked hard to put a stop to all of this misinformation about vaccines. For instance, they’ve reported data that shows that measles outbreaks tend to happen in communities where vaccination is less common. Unfortunately, this data also showed that there are large amounts of people who are not being vaccinated — 2018 had the second largest outbreak of measles since 2010!
While modern scientific circles often paint anti-vaccination groups in a similar light as religious radicals, they are more common than we’d like to think. In fact, they have been on the rise in recent years. These groups tend to blame vaccinations for things like autism and question what’s in them.
Still, the evidence is pretty solid that vaccinations are overwhelmingly good, and it’s important to educate our children in public education about the importance of vaccines and decrease the spread of this misinformation.
The Importance of Gene Therapy
Technological advancements have shown us a greater understanding of the genome and how it relates to diseases and mental conditions. It’s no surprise, but due to these new understandings, we have come to find a strong case for the helpfulness of gene therapy. See, there are genetic commonalities among those who suffer from certain diseases and bodily or mental defects. These commonalities allow for epidemiological methods to be used in widespread treatment and prevention of all sorts of ailments.
To name a few of the recent understandings we’ve stumbled on: It’s recently been discovered that genetics have a lot to do with fertility vs. infertility as well as the development of a child. We have also identified specific genes that qualify as “risk genes” for people with allergic rhinitis. And the Lady Davis Institute at the Jewish General Hospital literally compiled an atlas of genetic factors involved in osteoporosis.
Paralleling gene therapy for individuals is a group of epidemiological methods called population health strategies. This is a term for a group of methods that are helping to identify groups of individuals at risk for certain diseases. It allows preventative gene therapy to shine — more on that below.
Now that we’ve established the way that recent findings have allowed us to recognize molecular patterns in complex diseases, as well as understand the importance of gene therapy, epidemiologists have to tackle it efficiently. Our use of technology is not at all limited to understanding the genome — it aids us in our solutions to some of the deadliest causes of illness known to mankind. There are ways within epidemiological concepts and practices that technology is already doing this. Most notably are advanced therapy medicinal products (ATMP).
According to the European Medicines Society, ATMPs tend to be classified into three categories: gene therapy, somatic-cell therapy, and tissue-engineered medicines. As discussed above, gene therapy medicines are typically used for diagnostic and therapeutic effects. Somatic-cell therapy medicines use biologically manipulated cells and tissue to prevent and cure diseases. And lastly, tissue-engineered medication use modified tissues to replace, repair, and even regenerate human tissue.
In the western world, ATMPs are being tightly regulated and carefully approached due to their sensitive nature. However, great advancements in the world of healthcare are being made by them, and the popularization of such treatments may take us into the future of a healthier society. Recently, it was announced that the European Commission considers funding the initiative RESTORE, which aim is to bring dozens of ATMP to the market by 2030. It’s really fascinating!
This trend seems to be continuing too. Population health scored another victory when a machine recently outperformed human experts in identifying cervical precancer. If the technology behind epidemiology, population health, and ATMPs continues the way it has been, then it’s very possible that the speed of our health advancements will increase, beyond machine learning. Hopefully, this leads to better healthcare and quicker treatments for some of the world’s worst diseases.
Do you study epidemiology? What do you know about ATMPs? Feel free to share your expertise in the comments below!
About the author
Brooke Faulkner is a mom and writer in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. She loves researching the current state of medicine and sharing her findings with other families. You can find more of her writing on twitter or at contently.