Evolutionary Medicine 2014

This year’s course in evolutionary medicine will tackle the most fascinating questions in human health and disease. Once again, we will spend the semester exploring how tradeoffs involving natural selection and evolutionary history influence diseases of all sorts.

Each session will involve a case study in which evolutionary concepts are useful in understanding the pathophysiology and sometimes in guiding treatment.  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. Here are some of the topics we will cover during the Fall semester.

1) Overview of evolutionary applications to medicine and human health. Can evolution inform the work of a clinician? Can evolutionary concepts – such as phylogeny, selection, genetic drift, fitness, kin selection – lead to advances in patient care, public health and epidemiology.

2) 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?

3) Adaptation in trauma and infection.  Has natural selection influenced the body’s responses to injury, damage, and infection?

4) 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?

5) 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?

6) Co-evolution of humans and the microbiome. How do communities of microbes influence diabetes, autoimmune diseases, and other illnesses?

7) How do microbes evolve antibiotic resistance? Antimicrobial resistance is a major killer in the US and worldwide. Can evolutionary biologists and physicians devise ways to combat the epidemic of antibiotic resistance?

8) Recent human evolution. How have human populations evolved adaptations to live at high altitude? Can recent evolution explain human differences in the ability to digest cows milk? What lessons can we learn from comparative surveys of human populations about novel environmental exposures associated with human diseases.

The 2014 syllabus will be posted on the site by next week.
Joe Alcock MD

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