And it's because of our unrelenting research into how diseases work, and how to manipulate and circumvent the systems of the human body that we've accomplished this.
He realised that a good way to prevent diseases which some people genetically had higher risks for, was to look at the people who had the risk, but didn't develop the disease.
This slight change in focus on how we look at finding cures is revolutionary. And the diseases he's talking about, ones which people have a genetic predisposition to, are things ranging from Breast Cancer and Alzheimer's, to high blood pressure and dry mouth.
Remember, he's looking at the genetics behind it all only. So he doesn't want to look for any old healthy person.
He's looking at those who, despite a genetic predisposition, good chance of developing a disease, didn't. Why? Because they have something in them that stopped them from getting it.
And that factor may well be 1 slightly different code, or section of DNA which stops them from getting that disease. A Genetic Hero which saved them from a life of misfortune, indeed, from death.
That 1 difference doesn't necessarily have to be a glitch or a random mutation. It could be something that a large portion of the population already has. A mutation in the genome of as many as 2% of all European Caucasians renders those that have it immune to HIV infection becoming AIDS. That mutation has been used to cure HIV once through a bone marrow transplant (more info on how is here). But we can't replace someone's entire DNA, we can't transplant someone's tissue or organs to treat a disease all the time... not only is it impossible to do in many diseases, it also has many risks.
But knowing and studying those individuals who do have that disease can give us clues as to how to treat that disease. By studying them as people, we can see if they have a surplus, or deficiency, or abnormal proteins or hormones or substances in them that may well have stopped the disease from occurring, or stopped it in its tracks. By studying their blood, taking cell samples of their organs, or by looking closely at their genome, we can determine HOW that Genetic Hero had saved them.
And if we find that out - we can use it to prevent OTHERS from developing that disease too. We can stop people from getting dementia or cancer. And we may well be able to find out how to stop it in its tracks too.
In the case of that mutation which prevents the development of HIV/AIDS, we've already figured out how that Genetic Hero works. And with that information, 2 human trials are now underway, which promise to even stop HIV in its tracks, something that's never been done before (again, click here for more info)!
But doctors only found that lucky mutation after HIV/AIDS had ravaged Russia and other parts of Eastern Europe, leaving thousands infected. After a few astute clinicians had realised there was a certain chunk of people who were infected with HIV but weren't developing AIDs. That took a lot of luck and skill to find. The genetic heroes for many other diseases may never be found, because their symptoms don't manifest as aggressively s HIV/AIDS, and because people never made the connection that a few bright clinicians did.
He's looking for adults, 40 years and older, who were healthy as kids. He's looking, primarily for those who had siblings and family members who had some form of severe sickness as a child, but not exclusively them. And, because the technology to sequence DNA has become so cheap, he's looking all around the world.
The best thing about this - because he's gotten so much selfless interest from doctors willing to forgo glory to collaborate, for the good of society, he's already gotten 500,000 DNA samples. He's already found 25 of these Genetic heroes. And that's in the alpha stage... That's BEFORE going to the public.
And the great news is - he's nearly reached the beta stage. He's looking for people over 40, who are willing to take a simple swab, and willing to be contacted back, in the 1/20,000 chance that they have that slightly different genome inside them.
He's looking mainly at kids now, in this project. But the same principle applied elsewhere promises to find cures for a host of other diseases for adults too.
My facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/musingsofamedstudentpatient
My email: firstname.lastname@example.org
(I'm always happy to chat, and always helping others through tough times on the Facebook and on my email.)
My story: http://nikhilthegrizzlybear.blogspot.com.au/2013/07/my-story-nd-how-it-can-help-you.html
This is the first of a new series I'm doing on the blog, explaining and discussing some of the coolest Ted Talks/Youtube videos I'd seen and not only talking about the ideas, but how to improve or utilise them in the real world. I'm doing this to encourage me to post more often, and also to make me watch more of these amazing Ted Talks =P Comment here, or post on the Facebook page, any awesome Videos you've seen and I'll try and feature them on this blog!