Thursday, 11 February 2010

Cause, Effect and Cures

Just watched a fascinating piece on the BBC about Multiple Sclerosis (MS) - medical 'science' thinks it may have found a major cause and therefore potentially a simple cure!

Apparently, recent research has established that a very large proportion of MS sufferers have small veins in their neck - jugular veins. In the most recent research over 50% of MS sufferers had very small veins. The simple theory is that MS is a side-effect of poor blood flow. Blood 'backs-up' in the brain, due to the narrowness of the veins, depositing various toxins which damage the brain. More info here. Simple init.

The cure is very easy. Stick a tiny balloon in the vein, inflate it for a bit and stretch the vein. The initial results seem to surprisingly instant, even for people with advanced MS. One guy who had the op' was interviewed and he could walk again - the stuff miracles are made of.

I guess a lot of people who have spent time researching advanced drug treatments to treat the effects of MS on the central nervous system are saying:


They must feel like someone who has spent a long time wondering why all the flowers in their garden have stopped growing only to discover, by the time many of them have died, that their hosepipe has a kink in it.

But I imagine this is fairly common. Drug companies make a living selling treatments not cures. There is little incentive to find cures, because there is no market mechanism to reward those who find a cure. A drugs company will earn millions from selling treatments for the symptoms, but if one of their researchers finds a cure for the ailment, suddenly their cash pipeline suffers not merely a kink, but is severed. The temptation to suppress or discredit the research that found the cure must be absolutely enormous.

If you look at the MS Society's website it describes MS thus:

MS is the result of damage to myelin - a protective sheath surrounding nerve fibres of the central nervous system.

If that is the accepted definition then it's perhaps not a surprise that attention has been focussed on trying to deal with the complexities of the nervous system and on developing complex drugs to counteract the supposed dysfunctions of it.

But surely working out the cause of the damage to the 'myelin' is where the bulk of the effort should have gone - i.e. finding the cause and then the cure? - but then the 'money-trail' leads in a different direction doesn't it..

If another market mechanism were developed that provided huge financial rewards, recognition, honours and an investment pipeline that evaluated promising research areas and provided the funds (in return for a share in the later rewards if realised) to do the research then the outcomes would no doubt be very different.

Perhaps with such a mechanism we would stop the process of us spending ever greater sums of money on what we inappropriately call 'health' services?

Surely we spend £100billion per year on the National Illness Service? I don't know what we spend on the National Health Service - i.e. the organisation that we, as taxpayers, fund to promote medical research to find causes and cures rather than treatments for symptoms. Does it even exist?

So why am I banging on about this issue?

Well. My Mum's cousin Susan died just before Christmas. Susan had a happy, healthy earlier life. One of her early boyfriends was John Craven (him from 'Newsround' and 'Countryfile'). I met him once - he remembered her clearly.

Susan's father, the interestingly named Cherry, came back from Burma after the Second World War - very ill. His wife Dot, Susan's mother, spent almost all of her adult life nursing him before he died in the 1980s. But just around the time when the burden on Dot was lifted, Susan was diagnosed with MS and needed her Mum to take on the nursing role again.

Susan's last years were horrific. Her Mum had died , having dedicated her entire adult life to nursing her family. She was imprisoned in a body that didn't function. She couldn't eat, read, sit, or speak properly - let alone walk..

So finding causes and cures, rather than just treatments for symptoms that consign people to a life of nursing the hopelessly ill who slide down an ever increasingly miserable downward slope to death - is...important.


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