While we were all happy about the announcement made by Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Dr. Priscilla Chan, a pediatrician, about pledging $3bn for research to cure all diseases in our children’s lifetime, an in-depth look into this subject may actually call for a better choice of words.
U.S. President Barack Obama earlier this year made a call to cure cancer, only to get responses from scientists saying medical science is nowhere near solving this issue. In fact, it is on the verge of making it worse. Other experts believe we simply have no clue about curing, for example, Alzheimer. Therefore, despite the noble gesture by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, we should not get too excited and think twice before holding our breaths.
Of course, there is no intention to criticize anyone providing money for a cause as noble as curing diseases. And to be honest, Chan and Zuckerberg have begun their efforts in the right path by launching a Biohub in California set to gather researchers from all walks of life and provide them with state-of-the-art laboratories and the tools they need for their investigations. While new tools will lead to major leaps forward in healthcare, are they simply the missing link needed to provide all cures ailing mankind as we speak?
One thing Zuckerberg is correctly doing is encouraging other companies, governments and non-profit entities to jump on the bandwagon and provide for such a just cause. However, the mere notion of curing “all diseases” is considered somewhat misleading, to say the least. This seems more like listening to a Silicon Valley expert speaking in his own language about an issue that is completely out of his ballpark (yet, with all due to respect to Dr. Chan herself).
Acknowledging the important role of science in curing medicine is a major step forward. But to be honest, $3 billion in the span of a decade is less than 10% of the $32 billion the National Institute of Health is already spending annually. The NIH is far from claiming to cure all diseases. Unfortunately, one would have to admit that the Chan-Zuckerberg campaign might have oversimplified the entire issue for the uninformed. Irony lies in the very day their announcement was made, coinciding with World Alzheimer Day, and we literally have no clue about how to cure this very heartbreaking illness that makes life miserable for the elderly and emotionally painful for their loved ones around them.
Another element that is worth taking into recognition is the fact that there are parameters that are simply out of our control. Take the Zika outbreak, for example, and the evolving nature of bacteria that are becoming surprisingly drug-resistant.
And everything is not as simple as it may seem or as we would like it to be. Cancer, for instance, comes in different forms (blood, brain, breast, colorectal, lung and …) and has different characteristics in every single patient. This makes it quite a challenge to claim a cure will be found for cancer alone in the 21st century, let alone AIDS and all other diseases plaguing our way of life. One area where medicine is advancing is how to keep people alive longer. Yet an ironic side-effect is the more you keep people alive, the more it will be transmitted through the generations.
There is hope that the Chan-Zuckerberg call will raise awareness and encourage other capable parties to believe in and invest in cleansing our world of all diseases one by one. And this surge in knowledge will hopefully increase the amount of support currently provided for the dire research necessary in this regard. Another vital factor to understand is that technology is not the only hurdle we need to leap, or the only challenge we must tackle in the battle against this very important opponent. Society as a whole has to mature to an entirely new level.