Tuesday, September 2, 2014

A short (but maybe not-so-sweet) one

So, it's been a while. I've actually been drafting a couple posts recently, but just haven't found the time to be able to finish them. School started today. And senioritis is definitely a thing. Never thought it would happen to me, but it has. One of my teachers started teaching in class and I wanted to groan out loud. But it's not that I don't want to be there, I just think of all the other things I could be doing. Anyway, that's the not point.

Today, while putting the dishes away, I was struck by a thought. Someone I nominated for the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge finally completed his challenge, and I was reminded of it. As if it had been years since I had seen a video, even though it had only been a week or so. The speed at which social media, and people, get over things is remarkably fast... and I think that's kind of bad.

But also, we're running into a problem. Or actually just coming more face-to-face with one after having danced with it for probably ever since we've existed. And it comes down to one thing: money. Compared to other diseases, ALS kills very few people. And the question is, how do we decided where to focus our research efforts, our money.

But first, as with many models, we must simplify the problem. So imagine we have the money just sitting there to be taken, there's no need for campaigning for a specific cause or anything, it's just there, waiting to be put to good use.

With this simplification you could look at the challenge in a purely economic fashion, dividing the funds proportionally to the number of deaths the disease causes per year. This is a seemingly fair distribution of capital. But there are some number problems. One being that as treatments that extend life and prevent death due to heart disease are found and people begin living longer and dying less, do you begin to cut back on the amount of funding just as researchers on on the brink of actually getting somewhere? It gets messy.

So there's the number reason. But there's also a personal one. Like the major kind of super huge big deal idea of how it is impossible to say one life is more important than another, which is essentially what you are doing when you split up funds in any way. You deciding whether someone lives to see another day in a purely cold, numerical way. In a way it comes back to the classic train (or is it a trolley) car example: kill the one to save the five, or let the five die? It's not a perfect connection (there's less of the worry about what role specifically you play because we're focusing on a decision that would not be dealt with so immediately, and the decision wouldn't be up to just one person) but it gives the idea, it asks a question: where do we draw the line?

As someone who hopes to enter the biomedical field someday, these are the questions I ask myself. Will I be able to find a way to feel comfortable with drawing some lines? Will some be forced one me?

Well, I should probably get back to my books and stop asking so many questions. Thanks for the 500 views!

Keeping the spotlight on ALS for a bit, I encourage everyone to watch Anthony Carbajal's inspiring (and also funny) story. He brings up another interesting point on why ALS isn't being studied by pharmaceutical companies, along with a lot of other cool stuff.

Also, I guess I lied. This wasn't short... or sweet. Whoops!