Friday, April 10, 2009

Evolutionary medicine gaining ground

Description of Evolutionary Medicine meeting in the current Science:
Apparently there is a growing trend of teaching medicine from an evolutionary perspective in medical schools. The figure here shows the increase in connections between ecology & evolution and Medicine as reflected in citations (look at connections between the two reddish dots).
Some interesting parts from Elizabeth Pennisi's article:
For instance, anthropologist Kathleen Barnes of Johns Hopkins University has evidence that for some asthmatics, this overly energetic inflammatory response may be a holdover from the body's successes in coping with parasitic disease.

...With genomic data in hand, "medical students are much more equipped to understand the connections between all organisms,"...

Barnes and her colleagues have found that asthma is associated with the defective Duffy gene in populations in Brazil, Columbia, and the Caribbean whose recent African ancestors lived where malaria was endemic.
Also, in this issue, from the same meeting, a piece about schizophrenia and autism by Constance Holden, arguing for the evolutionary connection between these two conditions (I think that an equally appropriate spectrum is: William's syndrome-Autism)
At the Sackler Colloquium on Evolution in Health and Medicine held last week at the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in Washington, D.C., evolutionary geneticist Bernard Crespi of Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, Canada, threw some evolutionary firepower at the question. He proposes that both schizophrenia and autism are disorders of the "social brain"--but at opposite ends of the same spectrum.

A number of studies have shown some overlap in genomic "hot spots" for CNVs in schizophrenia and autism, with, in some cases, deletions in one condition just where there are duplications for the other


That would fit with their theory that psychotic disorders--including not only schizophrenia but also bipolar disorder and some major depression--result from "overdevelopment" of the social brain, and autism spectrum disorders reflect underdevelopment of that brain. Many scientists believe socialization is the main force behind the rapid expansion of human brains, said Crespi, pointing out that in primates the size of the cortex increases with size of social groups. The components of the social brain, according to Crespi, include language, self-awareness, "social emotions" such as pride and guilt, logical thinking, pursuit of goals, and awareness of the mental states of others.

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