Treating illness before it develops

Preventive medicine: how we treat disease before it occurs

Corona shows: Health can only be maintained if we stay one step ahead of suffering. Artificial intelligence, data medicine, and modern biology are helping.

Treating disease before it happens

The mask as protection against corona infection and as a measure to contain the pandemic has become a symbol of prevention in medicine.

Doctors usually fight symptoms and diseases instead of preventing them. But for successful Prevention complex ailments are still much too poorly understood. Helping now the systems biology, Which attempts to measure and describe life as comprehensively as possible. Her holistic approach will make medicine more humane, give us a head start on disease and a life of health.

Wear mask? Are you vaccinated? Keep your distance? The Corona pandemic has. Change our lives from the ground up. The idea of prevention has become commonplace. Incessantly we do something or let something else be, with the goal of not getting sick and protecting the health of others. We try to stay ahead of infection.

We trust in the findings of science. In fact, this could measure that FFP2 masks keep corona viruses out and aerosols are dispelled by ventilation. She has even managed to develop a safe and effective vaccine in an amazingly short time. And she was able to use models to predict how the pandemic is likely to develop if policymakers adopt certain measures to restrict contact – or not.

This means that we act in a completely different way than we usually do. If we are healthy, we avoid doctors. We care little about this condition, which is not the opposite of disease at all, but a process of adapting to life. Illness is a part of life. Our health should therefore also allow us to cope well with a chronic condition or aging. And that is why a real health medicine should always be one step ahead of the suffering, the infection, the neglect, the pandemic, the loneliness. She should know what is threatening.

A contribution from: Heritage&Environment – How social becomes biology. The magazine about everything that shapes health and personality

The preservation of health

Today's medicine, however, is first and foremost responsible for the therapy of diseases and the treatment of symptoms, not for the maintenance of health. It is only logical that our health care system – which, strictly speaking, is a disease system – pays doctors and hospitals primarily to heal us. Prevention is much less high on the agenda. Yet it is considered a dream of mankind to prevent diseases before they arise.

Nothing drives natural science more than making life and the environment predictable. Astronomy succeeded already in the 16. In the twentieth century, it was possible to measure the orbits of the planets so precisely and to predict them with the help of differential equations that it could look into the future. From then on, mankind knew when Jupiter, Venus or Saturn would appear at which point in the sky. The system of celestial bodies was figured out with the help of physics and mathematics. Algorithms made planetary changes describable over time.

A wonderful idea, if the same succeeded with the biology, with the system of the life. It would be the end of medicine as we know it today. Because doctors could act with foresight, they could, together with many other professions, such as psychologists, midwives, physiotherapists, nutrition and exercise advisors, ensure that we live a healthy life.

Recognize imbalances and stabilize its own system

If an imbalance arose in the system of life, then a small, precise intervention, adapted only to this person in his special socio-cultural environment and with his very personal experiences, could take place. It could be a specific medication, psychological coaching, or a change in diet, sleep, or exercise program. Already the biological system of this human being would be strengthened, and the illness would be averted before it could develop at all.

Online lecture on systems biology, the medicine of the future and a life in health.

Of course this is a utopia. We are still far away from it. The life of a human being is incomparably more complex than the orbits of the planets. There are probably so many interrelated links, external and internal networks and hidden patterns that it will always be impossible to describe life in its entirety. Moreover, the vast majority of diseases are much more complicated than infections such as covid-19.

When it comes to the common diseases of civilization, to ailments and symptoms such as high blood prere, allergies, depression, Alzheimer's disease, cancer, or simply back pain, science generally knows neither their deep-seated causal mechanisms nor the connections between their development in the network of life.

A task for the century

But basic biological research is in the process of meticulously elucidating the molecular structures of biology – genes, epigenetic switches, proteins, messenger substances – together with their function. It is a century task. At the same time, it is beginning to better understand the networks that link a person's cells, organs, hormones, nervous systems and even the bacteria that inhabit the intestine. And together with psychology, but also social and cultural sciences as well as ecology, it finds out where the interfaces are between the network of our biology and the networks of our environment.

Measuring life

The goal: to measure the life of an individual as comprehensively as possible – but also as necessary – and then to make it calculable with the help of mathematics and modern computer technology. Then, with the help of digital twins or virtual avatars, we could create an image of such a person. And this would allow us to look a little further into the future.

As a kind of health navigator, this digital twin could help us navigate through life according to our very own rules and still achieve consciously set goals. This is not new. Even today, the navigation system in our cars reliably shows us the way. the way according to previously determined specifications. Only the goals would be different. For example, to remain physically and mentally fit into old age. Or simply to enjoy life and still get through safely.

The science behind such ideas is systems biology. It is "measuring and calculating life at and around a particular moment," says Nikolaus Rajewsky, head of the Berlin Institute for Medical Systems Biology. Currently, his team is investigating how individual cells regulate their genes in an individual way, they are growing artificial mini-organs. And they use self-training algorithms – a technique from the world of artificial intelligence – to detect hidden mechanisms of life. They would like to be informed regularly about new contributions in the magazine Erbe&Umwelt as well as about public appearances. Be informed about further activities of Peter Spork? Then order the free E&U News here

A human, talking, holistic medicine

Ultimately, systems biology attempts to understand life holistically on a scientific basis. A medicine based on this would be more human, more speaking and more diverse than today's medicine. Actually, it would no longer be medicine at all, but a kind of health accompaniment.

Doctors would have time again to listen to us and talk to us at eye level. They would also be part of a team that helps us live with unavoidable suffering and treat preventable diseases before they even arise. Something similar is already done today by the Corona Expert Council. There are experts from many disciplines working together to protect the health of all of us.

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An important component of such health monitoring could one day be a smartphone app or something similar. From this, we would learn what consequences our actions in the here and now have for tomorrow against the background of an individual biography and biology. What will happen to me if I train for a marathon, take this particular medication, or decide to eat only fast food?? What impact will this have on my health in a year or even a decade??

It's clear that this idea seems dystopian to us. But the trend can hardly be stopped. And if we set the right rules today – deal with the problems and dangers – we gain, thanks to systems biology, a life in that individual form of health that we personally define as our ideal adaptation to life.

Self-determined handling of data

In return, we should no longer be as naive as we are today and give away our data to companies like Google or Apple in return for convenience. The decisive factor will be that we as individuals retain our freedom and independence. No state or employer or any other institution should be able to dictate what we mean by health. We must insist on being self-determined with our data. Everyone must be able to determine, without prere, who will have access to their health data and for what purpose that data will be used. A new profession of data consultants will help us to do this.

And no one is allowed to interfere with the definition of health, i.e. the direction in which the health navigator controlled by the digital twin should lead us. We must be allowed to decide freely how we want to live our lives – what future is important to us personally. Because health is now times not the opposite of illness.

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