The history of medical science has contained some great and useful advancements. Common and once fatal diseases such as polio, measles and TB have been greatly limited if not entirely eliminated in the world. Cancer once thought incurable and spoken of in the singular, is now recognized as having several forms, more than ever of which are at least treatable if not outright curable. Even brain and bone cancer, once flat out death sentences have a better than ever survival rate because of early detection methods and advances in biopsy technology and transplant procedures.

Once Science Fiction

There was a time, not that long ago when the very idea of a bone-marrow transplant would have been considered laughably absurd. There is however a sort of secret history of medical research that reads like a sad tale of failure and tragic misjudgment which has been either covered up or forgotten over the years. For all the research going into treatments and cures of various conditions and viruses, there still has yet to be an effective cure for the common cold.

No matter how much money or expertise is thrown at it, this is one puzzle researchers cannot seem to crack. Then there are the developments, that while meant well, got way out of hand. MDMA (now known as ‘ecstasy’) was originally developed as an antidepressant, but it was seized on by less than savory folks and ‘cut’ with all manner of nastiness and was therefore banned because of it, despite showing some very promising results for use as a psychological treatment. All because of strict effectiveness and safety standards which undercut potential life-changing drugs.This was a large part of the reason why it took 14 years for Penicillin to go into regular use in the civilian population after Dr. Alexander Fleming first recognized its potential in 1928. A modern day example of this sort of crises is the difficulty in developing an effective Ebola vaccine. 

Time and Money

It may seem crass to say, but a lot of what determines whether a drug is developed or not comes down to time frame and funding. Pharmaceutical development is difficult and expensive, it is just an unfortunate fact of life. Without the time and resources to conduct the needed research, all the passion and caring in the world will get you nowhere. This situation is particularly difficult while in the throws of a crisis threatening to become a pandemic. Even with all the money and dedication they had, it took several years for researchers to develop an effective vaccine against HIV and even then the virus needs to be caught in very early stages for the vaccine to be effective.

Ebola vaccine: Keeping up with the curve

An added challenge that researchers trying to treat Ebola face that those working on conditions such as HIV and TB did not, is that Ebola comes in several different strains and mutates often growing stronger each time. So now that an effective vaccine has been found, there is not guarantee it would work against the current strain.

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Trevor McNeil
Trevor McNeil spent much of his childhood playing video-games on early-form personal computers back when the disks were literally floppy. He attended the University of Victoria, completing a degree in Social Science with a concentration in Technology In Society, while also writing for the campus newspaper. He has written articles for such diverse publications as Humanity Death Watch, PopMatters and Perfect Sound Forever. He is a veteran of numerous “watershed moments” in the history of technological development and firmly believes that Han shot first.

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