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Why diabetes is incurable: Reflections on research in medicine

Milind G Watve
Professor, Biology
IISER, Pune, Dr Homi Bhabha Road, Pune

Science is driven by a set of methods and principles. However, science is handled by humans with their innate and acquired behavioral predispositions. As a result research often takes strange paths leaving aside the most logical ones. The mainstream thinking is sometimes dominated by belief systems which work not so differently from the religious belief systems. I will illustrate this with the story of type 2 diabetes for which currently there is no cure.

Diabetics are treated by physicians on the principle of ‘treat to fail’. There can be three possible reasons why a certain disease can be incurable.

  • Some critical step in the pathogenesis is irreversible in principle
  • The condition might be reversible in principle but we do not have the technology to reverse it
  • Our understanding of the condition is fundamentally flawed so that any treatment effort in that line of thinking is unlikely to cure

our understanding of the condition is fundamentally flawed so that any treatment effort in that line of thinking is unlikely to cure. A large body of experimental and epidemiological evidence gathered in the last two decades rejects the first two possibilities and thereby supports the third. However, there is a large scale reluctance to face the reality, the roots of which can be traced back to hurdles raised by human social behavior rather than any insurmountable hurdles in experimental or theoretical research. The sociology of the research community and the approach to science education take a major part of the blame. I will illustrate how open minded exploratory inquiries offer promising alternatives when faced with a stalemate like that of type 2 diabetes.



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