Witchcraft, Voodoo, and Medical Practice

It seems to me…

For those of you old enough to remember the 1986 movie Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, without going into the plot details, Dr. McCoy made several relevant comments regarding current medical practices including:

“My God, man, drilling holes in his head’s not the answer.”

“What is this, the Dark Ages?”

Unfortunately, considering the extent of what are still considered necessary invasive procedures, there is much truth to those statements.

While the medical field has made remarkable advances in some areas, much more remains beyond current limits of understanding.  In spite of recent progress, the reality is too little has been achieved beyond that available to tribal medicine men.  Many of today’s drugs originally were derived from treatments based on folk medicine or used by primitive tribes.  In addition, our health has become an item of contention among those willing to sacrifice our healthcare system to achieve government expenditure reductions.  I also am in favor of a balanced budget and have said in the past that there is no free lunch; changes to entitlement programs are necessary but not at the sacrifice of what currently is provided.

The human body is not a simple device.  It is composed of many complex interconnected systems, many of which are still not well understood.  Even the debate over many diagnostic procedures remains unresolved.  Are colonoscopies beneficial and, if so, starting at what age and frequency?  Mammographic screening?  Does PSA testing result in excessive cascade treatments of incidentalomas?  Every medication has a list of possible side-effects listing potentially more adverse results than the medication is prescribed to remedy.

Some day everyone will have a full genetic sequence as part of their medical records but the cost of sequencing has to be significantly reduced prior to this happening.  Approximately 98 percent of our DNA is called “garbage DNA” and still remains poorly understood.  This noncoding DNA describes components of our DNA sequences that do not encode for protein sequences but potentially might have a greater affect on our health than normal DNA.

Vaccines development still remains primarily guesswork.  Drug companies make educated guesses on formulations they hope will trigger immune responses and after some limited testing try large human trials – which all too frequently result in failure.  Even when a successful vaccine is found, many, such as the yearly influenza vaccines, still are dependent on egg incubation production.  Where is the Dmitri Mendeleev who can produce the equivalent of a periodic table for medications?  Rather than the traditional approach to vaccine development, newer systems-based biological methodologies need to be adopted.  Similarly, disruptive technologies such as DNA-based therapies still in the development stage need further work to achieve their anticipated potential.

Improved medical research and development will become increasingly imperative to aging populations and as densities continue to climb.  Copious amounts of carcinogens are being released into the environment; remaining wild habitats are being destroyed resulting in loss of species and genetic diversity which, along with global flattening, is bringing humans and wildlife into contact with previously un-encountered pathogens.

While it isn’t known where the next pandemic might originate or the development rate of antibiotic resistance, we have only limited time remaining prior to whatever health emergency next appears to threaten us.  Let’s hope we make good use of however long we have available.

Dr. McCoy carried a cell phone-sized “tricorder” able to diagnose and cure almost any ailment simply by passing it over the body.  I hope someone is actively working to develop that kind of technology.

That is what I think, what about you?


About lewbornmann

Lewis J. Bornmann has his doctorate in Computer Science. He became a volunteer for the American Red Cross following his retirement from teaching Computer Science, Mathematics, and Information Systems, at Mesa State College in Grand Junction, CO. He previously was on the staff at the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, Stanford University, and several other universities. Dr. Bornmann has provided emergency assistance in areas devastated by hurricanes, floods, and wildfires. He has responded to emergencies on local Disaster Action Teams (DAT), assisted with Services to Armed Forces (SAF), and taught Disaster Services classes and Health & Safety classes. He and his wife, Barb, are certified operators of the American Red Cross Emergency Communications Response Vehicle (ECRV), a self-contained unit capable of providing satellite-based communications and technology-related assistance at disaster sites. He served on the governing board of a large international professional organization (ACM), was chair of a committee overseeing several hundred worldwide volunteer chapters, helped organize large international conferences, served on numerous technical committees, and presented technical papers at numerous symposiums and conferences. He has numerous Who’s Who citations for his technical and professional contributions and many years of management experience with major corporations including General Electric, Boeing, and as an independent contractor. He was a principal contributor on numerous large technology-related development projects, including having written the Systems Concepts for NASA’s largest supercomputing system at the Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley. With over 40 years of experience in scientific and commercial computer systems management and development, he worked on a wide variety of computer-related systems from small single embedded microprocessor based applications to some of the largest distributed heterogeneous supercomputing systems ever planned.
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2 Responses to Witchcraft, Voodoo, and Medical Practice

    • lewbornmann says:

      The X-Prize has served as an incentive for innovation and development in a number of other areas and it will be interesting to see if it can be equally effective in the medical field. Progress, so far, has been quite slow. We can only hope…


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