A few list-makers are savvy enough to include mosquitoes. These blood-sucking pests aren't dangerous by themselves: it's the lethal diseases they carry. The good news is that scientists are learning how to kill mosquitoes without poisoning people.
- Mutant Mosquitoes: When Swatting Isn't Good Enough
- Made-to-Order Cancer Treatment
- Biomarkers, Cancer, and the FDA
(From Correogsk, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(People sleeping on a commuter train.)
"Is being healthy okay?"
Maybe that sounds like a daft question, or maybe not. Reading some of the more maudlin 19th-century 'lives of the saints,' a person could get the impression that sainthood required either a messy martyrdom, or dying of some horrible disease: smiling all the way.
There's more to sainthood than that, and that's yet another topic. (February 14, 2010)
I occasionally run into news about someone who decides that getting medical treatment is immoral. If the person is Christian, the idea often seems to be that we can either use our brains or trust God: not both.
Since I'm a Catholic, I accept the idea that my continuing existence depends on God: but I also must accept the idea that God made a world where the creatures in it — including me — play a role in making things happen. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 301, 306)
Bottom line, I'm expected to keep myself healthy: within reason. (Catechism, 2288-2289)
I don't have to be fascinated with the beauty and order of this universe: but appreciating God's handiwork is emphatically an option. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 325-349, 362-368)
I'll grant that some folks, including some Saints, have gotten rather intense about avoiding temptations of the flesh. It's easy for that attitude to slide into the sort of "despise your life" thing that's endemic to Western spirituality.
The physical world isn't basically bad, "spiritual" doesn't mean "good," and that's yet again another topic. Topics. (March 9, 2014; August 21, 2010)
I'm a human being, so I'm supposed to have a body. God didn't make a mistake when he called the universe "good" — and "very good" after creating us "...in the divine image...." (Genesis 1:1-31)
Sex isn't a mistake, either, since God created us " ... male and female...." — and that's still another topic. (Genesis 1:311)
As a Christian, I take God's endgame for this creation very seriously: including what my Lord said about trying to guess when the Last Judgment will come. (Matthew 24:36; Mark 13:32)
After this creation's closing ceremony, we will be restored, body and soul: along with the rest of the physical universe: a sort of Creation, version 2.0. (Revelation 21:1-4; Catechism, 1042-1060)
Meanwhile, we have the current iteration of the universe to work with: which is declaring God's glory. (Psalms 19:2)
More recently, an Italian monk wrote a song that's been translated into quite a few languages, including mine:
"Most high, all powerful, all good Lord!Long before Francis of Assisi started rebuilding decrepit chapels, Paul reminded folks in Thessalonica that we're made of spirit and matter:
All praise is Yours, all glory, all honor, and all blessing.
"To You, alone, Most High, do they belong.
No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce Your name.
"Be praised, my Lord, through all Your creatures,...
"...Praise and bless my Lord, and give thanks,
and serve Him with great humility."
("Canticle of the Sun/Laudes Creaturarum/Praise of the Creatures", Saint Francis of Assisi (1224))
"3 Do not quench the Spirit.
"Do not despise prophetic utterances.
"Test everything; retain what is good.
"Refrain from every kind of evil.
"4 May the God of peace himself make you perfectly holy and may you entirely, spirit, soul, and body, be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ."
(1 Thessalonians 5:19-23)
(From BBC News, used w/o permission.)
("It's raining men, in a bad way - an altered gene that chops up the X chromosome during sperm production meant that 95% of mosquito progeny were male"
"GM strains crash mosquito population in lab"Dying from malaria is possible, but most of the time it's like getting influenza; sometimes followed by pneumonia; severe anemia, coma; and, like I said, death. Each year, about a million folks die from malaria.
Jonathan Webb, BBC News (June 10, 2014)
"Scientists have created mosquitoes that produce 95% male offspring, with the aim of helping control malaria.
"Flooding cages of normal mosquitoes with the new strain caused a shortage of females and a population crash.
"The system works by shredding the X chromosome during sperm production, leaving very few X-carrying sperm to produce female embryos.
"In the wild it could slash numbers of malaria-spreading mosquitoes, reports the journal Nature Communications.
"Although probably several years away from field trials, other researchers say this marks an important step forward in the effort to produce a genetic control strategy...."
Back in the 'good old days,' not living in the tropics was a pretty good way to avoid getting malaria. My ancestors, for example, were more likely to die from plague, pestilence, famine, or raids from other branches of my family.
In my personal 'good old days,' specialized sprayer trucks would slowly howl through the neighborhood during the summer, spraying DDT mist into the front yards. It was effective: in driving mosquitoes into the back yards. DDT apparently isn't as bad for humans as it is for mosquitoes, but it's not exactly healthy for us, either.
I don't miss the 'good old days,' and that's — what else? — another topic. (February 9, 2014; November 28, 2010)
(From Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(Range of Anopheles species.)
Malaria is what happens when a particular sort of plasmodium sets up housekeeping in our liver. Slime molds are another sort of plasmodia during part of their life cycle.
The Malarial bug gets injected into our system in the saliva of infected female Anopheles mosquitoes. That, and other diseases, elevate mosquitoes from nuisances to threats.
Living in Minnesota, a sincerely non-tropical spot, would seem to make me safe from malaria. It's a comparative safety, though.
Only 48 Minnesotans got malaria in 2010, about one in 100,000 of the folks living in this state. Of those, doctors found the Plasmodium species in 46. Of those 46 cases, 41 probably got malaria in Africa, four in Asia, one in South America, one in Central America, and one in Oceana. Folks move around a lot more now than we used to.
That sometimes brings us in contact with diseases we'd never have caught otherwise. The good news is that we know a great deal more about disease these days: and are learning more.
More about malaria:
CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
Diseases and Conditions, Mayo Clinic
- "Malaria, 2010"
Minnesota Department of Health
(From Brocken Inaglory, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
("A mosquito and a fly in Baltic amber necklace are between 40 and 60 million years old...."
Malaria has been around for a long time. Infected mosquitoes got caught in tree resin about 30,000,000 years back, preserving pest and parasite alike in amber. The mosquito in that picture isn't one of them, it's older by 10 million years or so.
By now, we've got malaria that uses reptiles, birds, and rodents as hosts: primates, too, including us.
"Malaria" means "bad air," "mal aria" in Medieval Italian. Folks in the Renaissance apparently figured that the Ancient Romans were right about the disease being caused by noxious fumes from swamps. Miasma theory, the idea that disease is caused by pollution, made sense until we learned about germs. (February 12, 2014)
The mosquito family tree goes back about 260,000,000 years. Anopheles mosquitoes branched off upwards of 120,000,000 years ago: long before we were around. I suppose eradication of a species or two of mosquitoes will upset a few folks. Although I never lost my concern for the environment, I think life on Earth will endure, even if we're completely successful.
Eradication programs like this one would only affect one of the 3,500 species of mosquitoes at a time. I'm pretty sure that growing and releasing mutant male mosquitoes would be so expensive that we'd stop after dealing with the sincerely dangerous blood-suckers.
In any case: mosquitoes have endured the Cretaceous-Paleogene, Triassic-Jurassic, and Permian-Triassic extinction events. I don't think fear of a mosquito-free future makes sense. (November 29, 2013)
(From David Quick, via The Post and Courier, used w/o permission.)
("Cathy and Charles Fitch of Mount Pleasant are enjoying life as he is in remission from leukemia. Doctors have based treatments based on Charles' genome since his diagnosis in June 2011.
(The Post and Courier))
"MUSC using genetic mapping for research and personalized treatment of cancer"I liked David Quick's lead sentence: "...'personalized' cancer treatment that used to be the stuff of science fiction...." I've been living in 'the future' for quite a while now. We still don't have flying cars, not commercially viable ones; or AI that can pass a Turing test: and that's — you guessed it — another topic. (February 9, 2014; June 14, 2013; May 10, 2013)
David Quick, The Post and Courier (June 9, 2014)
"Air Force veteran Charles Fitch is alive today, most likely because of 'personalized' cancer treatment that used to be the stuff of science fiction, all thanks to cancer research and treatment based on genomics.
"In regards to medicine, genomics basically refers to the analysis of a individual's complete set of DNA, or genome, and how to treat diseases based on the mutations or other changes that have occurred to genes in the sequence. ..."
We've learned a very great deal about the human genome, and the genetic structure of many other creatures, over the last decade. New technologies this knowledge make possible are already facing the sort of fearful response that smallpox vaccination inspired.
Folks can decide to use science and technology to help, or hurt, others. Like every other human activity, ethics apply to research and how we use our tech. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2292-2295)
(From SocratesJedi, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(Diagram of a protein associated with a leukemia virus, blue; and a substance that inhibits the protein, red.)
"New gene tests may give cancer patients quicker path to treatment"I don't see any problem with the sort of genetic analysis that saved Charles Fitch's life: particularly since in his case the doctors were studying his genome as a diagnostic tool.
Julie Steenhuysen, Reuters (June 6, 2014)
"A new way of evaluating tumors may soon help cancer patients identify the underlying genetic link to their disease – and the best possible treatment – all in a single test.
"Researchers are set to begin clinical trials using a more comprehensive testing method that looks for all of the known genes that may be active in a tumor.
"The new method could guide patients to the right drug earlier, potentially replacing current tests known as companion diagnostics that only look for a specific biological trait or 'biomarker.' The presence of a biomarker can predict whether a new class of drugs called targeted therapies will work on particular tumors.
"Fitch, a 53-year-old grandfather who lives in Mount Pleasant, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in June 2011, a few weeks after he started having chest pains. Lab results showed that he had a low, and later plummeting, level of platelets in his blood.
"After he was admitted to the Medical University of South Carolina's Hollings Cancer Center, genomic sequencing of Fitch's DNA showed he tested positive for the 'Philadelphia chromosome,' a specific chromosomal abnormality that is associated with chronic myelogenous leukemia, as well as 25 to 30 percent of the adults with acute lymphoblastic leukemia...."
Things get a bit more complicated when we think about reaching into our genetic structures and changing the settings. That doesn't mean that any genetic therapy is wrong: just that it's — complicated.
The bottom line seems to be that in the still-hypothetical case where young parents could have their as-yet-unborn child diagnosed and treated for genetic ailments: healing obvious damage is okay; tweaking the kid to be pretty, athletic, blond, or whatever is not. Weeding out children of the "wrong" sex is definitely not acceptable. At all.
Some of what the Catholic Church says about the science and technology of genetics:
"...'Certain attempts to influence chromosomic or genetic inheritance are not therapeutic but are aimed at producing human beings selected according to sex or other predetermined qualities. Such manipulations are contrary to the personal dignity of the human being and his integrity and identity'85 which are unique and unrepeatable."
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2275)
"...Gene therapy commonly refers to techniques of genetic engineering applied to human beings for therapeutic purposes, that is to say, with the aim of curing genetically based diseases, although recently gene therapy has been attempted for diseases which are not inherited, for cancer in particular....
"...For a moral evaluation the following distinctions need to be kept in mind. Procedures used on somatic cells for strictly therapeutic purposes are in principle morally licit. Such actions seek to restore the normal genetic configuration of the patient or to counter damage caused by genetic anomalies or those related to other pathologies. Given that gene therapy can involve significant risks for the patient, the ethical principle must be observed according to which, in order to proceed to a therapeutic intervention, it is necessary to establish beforehand that the person being treated will not be exposed to risks to his health or physical integrity which are excessive or disproportionate to the gravity of the pathology for which a cure is sought. The informed consent of the patient or his legitimate representative is also required...."
("Instruction Dignitas Personae on Certain Bioethical Questions, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith," 25, 26; Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith (September 8, 2008))
(From FDA/Jason Reed, via Reuters, used w/o permission.)
"...Results of these broader tests could even be used to quickly identify which patients might benefit from experimental drugs being tested in clinical trials. U.S. health officials see it as the future direction of cancer diagnostics.Clinical trials are nothing new. Daniel 1:12-15 outlines an experiment involving treatment and control groups, baseline data and follow-up observations.
" 'We really are moving away from this one drug, one biomarker, one companion diagnostic,' said Dr Richard Pazdur, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's oncology chief.
"In advanced melanoma, for example, about half of patients' tumors have a mutation in the BRAF gene. Roche makes a drug called Zelboraf that blocks that pathway, at least for a time. To get Roche's drug, patients need to be evaluated with an FDA-approved companion diagnostic test. One of the tests is also made by Roche.
"In many cases, the FDA requires single-biomarker companion diagnostics as part of the drug approval process, but the broader testing model opens the door to additional players in the diagnostics space, including U.S.-based Foundation Medicine Inc and Thermo Fisher's Life Technologies...."
(Julie Steenhuysen, Reuters)
Over the millennia, we've developed increasingly formal procedures for that sort of thing, but the basic idea is the same: try something new on a small group first, and see what happens.
Ethics apply, of course, in experiments. Informed consent of experimental subjects if important: but it's not the only factor.
"...Experimentation on human beings is not morally legitimate if it exposes the subject's life or physical and psychological integrity to disproportionate or avoidable risks...."Balancing potential benefits and risks is harder than knee-jerk rejection of new ideas, or blind faith in untested procedures: but I think it's worth the effort.
- Science and technology
- "The Oldest Known Heart; Tweaking Bacteria; and Looking for Life in the Universe"
(April 11, 2014)
- "Getting a Grip About Dr. Moreau, Pigs, and Human Dignity"
(February 14, 2014)
- "Smallpox, Science, and Silliness"
(February 12, 2014)
- "Spears, Dogs, and Artificial Organisms"
(November 22, 2013)
- "Fifth Column Fruit Flies and Return of the Immortal Chicken Heart"
(August 9, 2013)
- "The Oldest Known Heart; Tweaking Bacteria; and Looking for Life in the Universe"
- Body and soul
- "Faith, Health, and Feeling Foggy"
(September 8, 2013)
- "Honoring the Body, Within Reason"
(April 25, 2012)
- "Prescriptions, Panic, and Points to Ponder"
(September 14, 2011)
- "Prayer, Medicine and Trusting God"
(March 4, 2010)
- "Medication for Depression? Yeah: The Catholic Church is Okay With That"
(February 25, 2010)
- "Faith, Health, and Feeling Foggy"