Printer-friendly version

Maladies of the future: hopes and fears

Meeting and debate with Alberto Mantovani - Scientific Director, Istituto Clinico Humanitas
Milan, 10/04/2019, Meeting for The Aspen Junior Fellows

Modern medicine is in continuous evolution, with discoveries and technologies unimaginable until just a few years ago. The field of immunology could not have conceived, for example, of an immune system capable of being “educated” to combat tumor cells, and yet today there is a vast amount of clinical evidence of exactly that. Advancements in research have led to various paradigm changes that have overturned previous ideas about disease and the human body.

The discovery and development of new treatments is an arduous path, one that is also strewn with failures. Moreover, therapies that are highly effective in some cases can turn out to be useless or even harmful in others. For instance, only a fourth of patients treated with immunological therapies for cancer reap the benefits.

The advancement of knowledge in medicine proceeds in synergy with other disciplines, and there is a steadily growing need for increased interface between the most diverse fields. Such multidisciplinary collaborations include bioinformatics and data management using artificial intelligence and machine learning, which is opening new diagnostic and therapeutic horizons. This leads to the need to provide appropriate training for doctors and other professionals involved in research and treatment development, honing the ability to dialogue with disciplines dissimilar to one’s own.

Then there are the problems linked with the sustainability of experimental therapies. New treatments in the field of personalized medicine are very costly. For a university system such as Italy’s, which has reached a level of global excellence from many points of view, this poses a variety of problems regarding the sustainability of costs by the society. To that end, the identification of efficiency parameters is not a secondary consideration. 

From the social viewpoint, the general population’s scientific and medical literacy needs raising. To cite a glaring example, the phenomenon of “fake news” has caused serious epidemiological problems, such as those related to vaccines. Neither is the problem solely Italian, as witnessed by the recent case of a county in the state of New York that was placed in quarantine as a result of an outbreak of measles. In any case, the solution to the problem lies, first of all, in the ability of researchers to communicate with the public, starting in the classroom.