Letter from Medical Students on Evolutionary Medicine

From a recent student:

I am a fourth-year medical student at the University of New Mexico and I recently took a course titled Evolutionary Medicine, taught by Joe Alcock, MD. Evolutionary medicine seeks to answer questions about health and human disease from the perspective of evolutionary biology. The goal is to understand why, through the process of natural selection, humans have evolved susceptibility to certain diseases. At the core of evolutionary medicine is to recognize that disease processes need proximate explanations and evolutionary explanations.  In medical school we are taught about the physiology and pathology of diseases. These are the proximate causes of disease, or the explanation of our bodily mechanisms. Taking an evolutionary perspective would help explain how the mechanism of a disease had offered a selective advantage and what is the phylogeny of the mechanism. These types of questions pose answers to how the body got to be the way it is, and both types of questions are needed in order to fully understand the biology of disease.

During the course we explored basic concepts in evolutionary biology, natural selection and pathogen-host interactions, human genetics, immunology and diseases associated with aging. We explored common illnesses and important topics in medicine such as diabetes mellitus, allergies, cardiovascular disease, psychiatric diseases and the development of pathogen antibiotic resistance. I felt that the course was exciting, interesting and, most importantly, extremely helpful in understanding the evolutionary basis of disease. I would highly recommend this course to all levels of medical students and suggest that concepts of evolutionary medicine be integrated throughout the medical school curriculum.

In the interest of encouraging critical thinking and a scientific approach to problem solving in medicine, perhaps it is time to expose more medical students to these compelling ideas.

JA

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