Friday, July 27, 2012

Cells and people behave the same--the Aurora, Colorado tragedy

Our 50 trillion cells work together and cooperate with each other. Even though the networks appear complex, they are ultimately under a central control,[1] which is based on a few simple concepts:

It is a mistake to imagine that complex disease may not be solved by simple approaches or that their causes are not simple. The grave danger that terms such as ‘multifactorial’ or ‘complex’ is that they may justify the belief that solutions will come only from large and expensive managed projects rather than from simpler approaches…Diseases don’t exist in their own right but as alterations in complex systems of homeostasis. Medicine has little regard for complete description of how a myriad of pathways result in any clinical state.”[2]
True, but even so, research studies on isolated parts of the whole are still beneficial and have significantly contributed to our society; hopefully, they don’t lose track of the “forest.” The latter point was sadly exemplified at a recent meeting of doctors I attended; one esteemed and intelligent colleague expressed his opinion that the word “holistic” conjures images of someone trying to cure brain cancer with Gingko baloba. Granted, some have imbued that word with unsubstantiated claims of fantastic cures. Nonetheless, retreating to the other extreme does not serve us well:       

The current discourse on clinical medicine is dominated by a mechanistic, deterministic, and reductionist world view and has much to gain by embracing the concepts in complexity science.”[3]

Fortunately, top researchers do understand what “holistic” truly means:

 Biologists are struggling to move beyond a “part list” to more fully understand which network components interact with one another to influence complex processes... The idea that molecular signaling cascades share fundamental properties with ant colonies and internet communication systems is adding new meaning to the idea of interdisciplinary science.”[4]

Scientists are going as far as stating that our society must emulate the 50 trillion cells that constitute our body; they work together in a perfect symphony of cell communication.[5] The same cooperative work is vital if people are to survive in the long run, a subject that is discussed on the cover of the July 2012 issue of the Journal Scientific American. “Scientists are pushing network analysis to its limits across disciplinary fields” to work on societal problems, climate change, sustainability, ethnic strife, internet users emotions, behavioral norms, terrorists activities, monetary exchanges, viral transportation systems, cellular circuitry (cell communication), DNA sequencing, and economic recession.[6]
So, “ourselves, and our interactions are the ultimate physics problem.”[7] We were brutally reminded of this fact by the tragedy in Aurora, Colorado in July. That bell tolled for all of us.
Have we grown too isolated from one another? Was the perpetrator a sick individual who felt himself detached from society at large? There will always be “cancerous” cells/individuals who will not hesitate to hurt the organism they are a part of. Still, we would do well to revise our view of our body/world and strive to work as cooperative societies, not competitive ones.[8]
“No man is an island,” but most of us, from time to time, may feel like one. Perhaps the sick young man in Colorado felt extremely isolated, and due to unresolved inner demons, went over the edge. Adding the fact that our mental health system is broken,[9] we end up with a dangerous mix that will likely result in similar tragedies in the future. This is why I believe we must stand strong by the Second Amendment and preserve our right to bear arms. If a few of the victims, particularly the 3 Armed Forces veterans, had been carrying a lawful concealed weapon, the consequences may have been less devastating.
To protect themselves from inside and outside threats, some of our 50 trillion cells have a specific defense function, immuno-detoxification. These cells are “allowed” to destroy any wayward cell, toxin, or organism that threatens the survival of the whole organism. These immune system cells are responsible, well trained and seldom misfire. Of course, it would be best to prevent problems from arising altogether with holistic approaches like nutrition and clean environments, but, sometimes “lethal radiation” is necessary to treat a wayward cancerous cell.


[1]Controllability of complex networks,” J. Nature 2011;47::167
[2]The puzzle of complex diseases,” J. Science 2002;296:699. Cover issue
[3]Complexity Science to Conceptualize Health and Disease: Is It Relevant to Clinical Medicine?”
            Journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings 2012;87:314
[4]Life and the art of networks,” J. Science 2003;301:1863
[5]Mapping Cellular Signaling,” Cover issue J. Science, May 31st 2002;296:1632-1635
[6]Connections: complex systems and networks,” J. Science 2009;325:405
[7]Ourselves and Our Interactions: the ultimate physics problem?” J. Science 2009;325:406
[8] Cover issue Journal Scientific American, July 2012
[9] National Council for Disabilities (9/16/2002) report: “The U.S. mental health services is in crisis,” The American Enterprise Institute, J. Family Practice News, January 1st, 2004, p82, New England J. of Medicine 2004;350:507 & J. Archives of General Psychiatry 2005;62:629

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