On Nutrition by Ed Blonz

Why Does Medical Research Move So Slowly?

DEAR DR. BLONZ: It is a bit frustrating that it takes researchers so long to come up with answers for the major diseases affecting us all. I was hoping for some thoughts, as members of my circle of friends are dealing with several health issues. Their doctors prescribe pill after pill, with little in the way of answers. -- W.F., San Francisco

DEAR W.F.: Why does “science” take so long to come up with its cures? The frustration you feel, not uncommon, gives birth to a tendency to believe the worst about the medical and pharmaceutical communities. We tune in when the subject is conspiracies with the rich and powerful at the reins. This approach is all too easy to embrace by those who suffer.

Is there a reasonable answer? Those who have been around for several decades understand that there’s much that can go wrong with the human body. There has been amazing progress along many fronts, even though sophisticated medical research has not been around for very long. For example, we have only begun to understand how our 25,000 or so genes work and interact, and what turns them on, off or tweaks them in the right direction. We are, in essence, a collection of complicated interactive chemical reactions and control mechanisms, with only a rudimentary understanding of how it all works together and how we can make adjustments to avoid, or treat, disease.

Research, while vibrant, can seem poky when there are specific answers we crave. It takes enormous amounts of money, and there is not enough coming from federal funding. Our government has a moral responsibility to fund such research, but nobody wants to pay higher taxes to make it happen. Much gets done in corporate laboratories, but those are profit-making institutions that have to answer to their stockholders.

It is not an ideal situation, but there is no logic in jumping from this situation to one in which you embrace remedies with no testing or scientific foundation. The peddlers of such remedies have nothing but a sales pitch preceded by a condemnation of the status quo.

Most physicians and scientists are noble in their motivations. At least, most start that way. It is wrong to think that someone with a handle on a cure would not follow through to find out whether it is valid. Scientists relish the chance to be on a team that would help end a dreaded disease.

For my part, I will remain vigilant in my readings. I’ve been in the science field for a while, and do my best to foster promising concepts. At the same time, I will take issue with situations in which health frustrations and tragedies degenerate to financial opportunities for the unscrupulous to push unproven remedies on desperate people.

Send questions to: “On Nutrition,” Ed Blonz, c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64106. Send email inquiries to questions@blonz.com. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.