Timeline for the cure of diseases

Elizabeth Childs (echilds@linex.com)
Mon, 10 May 1999 09:59:15 -0700

I'm curious when people anticipate various diseases being cured. I am in no way knowledgeable about this, but my general sense is that it will probably happen in this general order:

Cancer, if the big breakthroughs happening now prove themselves Infectious diseases except retroviruses
Genetic diseases
Immune disorders
Rare disorders and disorders of unknown cause (including Chronic Fatigue Syndrome)

I'm not sure where to put retroviruses, organs grown especially for transplant, heart disease, psychiatric disorders, spinal nerve regrowth, artificial retinas, diabetes, etc.

I would put Chronic Fatigue Syndrome as a disease of unknown cause; I'm particularly curious if anyone has any sense of when it might get cured, since I've got it. (Advice also welcome.)

My reasoning: cancer is fairly well understood, and current experimental treatments are very promising. Infectious diseases are also well understood, and it's a matter of getting control over the invading organisms on a chemical level. This is somewhat invasive and potentially dangerous, but it doesn't involve any fundamental change to the patient's body, and thus is less dangerous.

Genetic diseases are well understood, and have a single cause, but treating them in adulthood involves both the discovery of a new mechanism for changing the genes, and the risks involved of fundamentally changing the patient's biochemistry. Immune disorders are poorly understood, and appear to have multiple causes. Changing the mechanisms of the adult immune system also seems very risky, as a number of immune disorders involve too much or not enough activity, and it would be easy to overshoot your goal and cause the opposite of the problem you initially had.

Diseases that are still poorly understood, even with all of the scientific tools we have to study them, seem as though they will continue to be the most intractable, although I suppose that a single new tool could reveal any given disorder to actually have a single simple origin, and from there make it much easier to cure.

Any thoughts? I have very little background to be making such speculations, and I only put them up in order that someone more knowledgeable can correct me.