This year’s course in evolutionary medicine will tackle some of the most fascinating questions in human health and disease. We will spend the semester exploring how tradeoffs involving natural selection and “path dependence” influence diseases rare and common.
Each session will focus on one or more questions relating to a theme. This course will be offered concurrently with a UNM School of Medicine elective of the same name. A goal of the course is to promote interdisciplinary discussion and a lively exchange of ideas.
1) Overview of evolutionary applications to medicine and human health. How can evolution inform the work of a clinician? Why should public health, epidemiology, and pathophysiology matter to an anthropologist or evolutionary biologist?
2) Demography and disease. How does disease expression vary in different environments? Is race a useful concept in medicine?
3) Genomic imprinting and diseases of pregnancy. Can a gene have different effects depending on which parent it came from? What accounts for the variety of maternal physiologic changes during pregnancy and childbirth?
4) Evolution and mental health. Can genetic copy number variants explain autism and schizophrenia? What is the role of infection in psychosis? Does panic disorder have an evolutionary explanation?
5) Co-evolution of pathogens and the human immune system. How do different communities of commensals and parasites affect autoimmune disease? How do pathogens evolve antibiotic resistance? Do pathogens influence re-allocation of investments in immunity versus sexual reproduction?
6) Evolution of cardiovascular disease in human populations. Why does diet play an important role in heart disease? What do wound healing physiology and gene-environment mismatch have to do with plaque formation in blood vessels? What can hunter-gatherer populations and ancient humans tell us about the development of cardiovascular disease?
7) Developmental origins of adult disease. How does the maternal environment influence the development of insulin resistance and later cardiac disease? What are the gestational triggers for diabetes? Why do certain populations seem predisposed to diabetes and obesity?
8) The evolution of longevity and senescence. Why are many of us likely to suffer from neurodegenerative diseases, strokes and heart attacks as we age? Why do humans have a longer life span than a house cat or an elephant seal?
Joe Alcock MD