Let’s start with a simple question that any three-year-old could answer. Why did G-d create the world in the way that G-d did? Okay, okay … any four-year-old could answer.
My late brother, who was one of the most brilliant people I have ever met in my life, once said that the cure for cancer would come out of a fungus lab. His point was that research does not move linearly. Discoveries in one area of science spill over into other areas. In fact, one of the advantages of a system like Watson [which can scan millions of scientific articles in seconds], is that Watson can find answers to questions in places that human researchers might never look.
But it seems that G-d has left breadcrumbs along the evolutionary path, that eventually lead us to major discoveries. In the following article, the author discusses a major discovery by [what a surprise] an Israeli team of researchers. This team, at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, along with an Israeli startup called TyrNovo ( I have no connection to either group) have made a major advancement towards stopping the aging process in the human brain.
There is unquestionably a tremendous amount about the brain that we still do not understand. But certain degenerative diseases, like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, tend to be age-related. As such, if the brain can be stopped from aging/degenerating, this may very well prevent these diseases.
One of the first breakthroughs in this area was made by one of the research teams while he was working with worms. This discovery was then applied to mice and was found to protect against degeneration in the mice’s brains [insert your “all we need are smarter mice” jokes here]. This research led to the development of a set of compounds that could have similar positive effects in the human brain. As exciting as this is, research is still a very slow process, and it will likely be many years before a viable treatment comes to market. And of course, that assumes that this entire pathway of treatment does not have some serious side effect specifically in human beings. Still, the excitement over such a discovery is palpable.
Along the way towards a cure, future researchers on this project will make use of technologies that were developed for a whole other gamut of biological studies. In the past, discoveries in plant biology have had applications to human beings. It seems that all living things on this planet are connected. Often enough, those connections will be so subtle, that they will require billions of dollars of research and advanced technologies (some of which don’t even exist yet), to fully understand. But the connections are there.
I don’t expect anyone to go out and hug a tree. And I personally don’t know the words to the song Kumbaya. But it is hard to ignore the plan that seems to play out in our genetics and biology, all leading us towards something. I will leave it to the philosophers and the religious leaders to argue over what that something is.
This poses a fascinating and practical question. Every year I personally get a phone call asking for a donation for research. It may be cancer research or Parkinson’s research or some other issue. What if I were to get a phone call asking for a donation for research into tree diseases? Would I give money? Would I laugh? What if I found out that my tax money was going to support major research into areas that I personally thought to be a total waste of time. Should I fight this?
No one has the answer. No one knows where research will lead until the research is done and the next set of questions is asked. Even if one argues that this is the way in which G-d wants us to earn the knowledge we obtain, you have to admit that it’s quite sneaky. More importantly, while we play with our petri dishes and microscopes, people are dying. So no one considers this a game.
So what do we do? How do we spend our research dollars? Do we give everything to cancer research until it is cured? The only answer I have is to just keep doing what we’re doing. Apparently it does seem to work. We have cures for diseases that have plagued humankind since the dawn of the species. The technology boost that we got from the space race has led to other amazing advances in computerization, that we all unquestionably benefit from. No one knows where the answer will come from.
I have to admit that I do wonder how my brother would have responded to the question “Will you donate to research into fungus”. I do know that the day will come when the cure for his life-ending cancer is found, I will rejoice on that day but I will also be saddened by the fact that he was born too early.
Thanks for listening