A Reflection On Our Evolutionary Medicine Class and Five Reasons as to Why Evolution is Important

For my last blog post, I thought it would be appropriate to reflect on this course and the significance of evolution in the broader context of medicine and drug development. In his Huffington Post article, Steven Newton briefly explains five reasons as to why evolution is an essential component of modern medicine. The five areas of medicine where evolution plays a critical role (in Newton’s list) are: H1N1 and emerging diseases, HIV, vaccines, antibiotic resistance, and drug development. While the notion of evolution may conjure an image of a slow process, this article demonstrates otherwise. Four of the five topics that Newton mentions emphasize how rapidly evolution can occur and how it mandates the development of new treatments, vaccines, and antibiotics.

On a deeper level, however, this article is particularly relevant to this course as many seemingly ‘obvious’ statements that Newton mentions now carry a deeper evolutionary meaning and context with them. For example, when Newton mentions how ‘rapid evolution combined with rapid travel’ can lead to the spread of a disease, I am reminded of our class discussion on how human behavior and rapid transportation have facilitated the transmission of many infectious diseases. Furthermore, Newton’s reference to how a ‘multi-drug’ approach is better suited for HIV treatment (due to the virus’ rapid evolution) reminds me of Dr. Goldberg’s lecture on cystic fibrosis (CF) and how drug cocktails have been used to treat patients with CF. The article’s discussion of the importance of vaccines and the mechanisms behind how they work serves as a reminder of Dr. Mina’s lecture on LAIVs and the common misconceptions associated with vaccines. Additionally, Newton’s discussion of how antibiotics can “[wipe] out almost all [of an individual’s] bacteria” reminds me of Justine Garcia’s lecture on the critical role that the microbiome plays in health and disease outcomes. And lastly, Newton’s reference to drug development and the use of animal models serves as a reminder of our discussion on personalized medicine and the inaccuracies associated with animal model testing. Thus, by fortifying our understanding of fundamental evolutionary principles and by providing us with a plethora of examples of how evolution shapes modern medicine, this class has equipped us with a deeper insight and appreciation for Evolutionary Medicine and its wide applicability to the past, present, and future of medicine.


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