April 29, 2012
In the modern political arena, we are provided a myriad of false choices, while our supposedly elected representatives skillfully and purposefully obfuscate and maneuver around real, permanent solutions. This is because the vast majority of the power and influence today’s ruling elite enjoy across the Western world is derived precisely because of perpetual, seemingly unsolvable problems. In many cases, these “problems” are manufactured by the very people proposing solution.
The fraudulent “War on Terror” is one such manufactured problem, perpetually both fueled and fought by the monied elite to keep their rackets, and the power, wealth, and influence derived from them continuing perpetually. The healthcare debate is another problem capable of being permanently solved, but is allowed to purposefully drag on to maintain an entire industry built upon exploiting the desperation of the sick and injured.
The basic principle behind supply and demand is that the more readily available any given good or service is, the lower the price to purchase it. There are different strategies that can be used to lower the price, but essentially it requires making a good or service cheaper to produce or perform and increasing its supply verses a particular level of demand.
In the case of meat, early human beings were subject to the natural populations of game animals. Like many other species, establishing and defending territory to hunt and gather in was a matter of life and death. Should a local human population’s demand increase beyond the natural population of game animals, people would either starve or be forced to expand their territory, risking conflict with neighboring tribes or large predators. The game changer was technology, and in this particular case, agriculture. Now more food could be produced in the same amount of territory, so much so that many members of the tribe could occupy themselves with activities other than hunting and gathering – there was a surplus.
Agriculture, however, is dependent on weather and climate; and in response to these variables, additional methods and technologies have been devised, including irrigation and greenhouses. Today, under normal circumstances, human beings fighting over food is unheard of – our mastery of agriculture has produced vast surpluses. People starve today because of greed, conflict, financial manipulation, and archaic distribution models – not an inability to produce enough food.
Access to information has perhaps exceeded even our ancient mastery of agriculture, and approaches what is known as “post-scarcity;” or, in other words, it has become so abundant and easily accessible that it not only costs nothing to obtain, but the more in-demand it is, the easier it is to come by. It is predicted that computer-controlled manufacturing methods and sub-atomic material science will eventually translate this “information post-scarcity” to the physical world where digital bits are replaced by atoms.
So how then does this apply to healthcare and how exactly does it end the healthcare debate “forever?”
The solution, in the context of supply and demand, is very simple. Increase the number of people involved in both providing healthcare services, as well as designing, developing, and manufacturing biomedical technology. America’s sabotaged education system would be the first place to start. Healthcare is currently expensive because of a limited number of qualified students that can study medicine, fewer who can afford to study it, and similar exclusivity in regards to enterprises developing modern medical technology.
Raising the overall competence of students increases the number of potential eligible medical students. This demand forces medical schools to expand their capacity and perhaps even developing new curriculum to allow such expansion to move vertically as well as horizontally. Smaller medical colleges and schools could be set up beyond main campuses, and as the pool of qualified medical practitioners and instructors increases, the price required for their services would drop – along with tuition.
Video: Dr. Jack Choi’s virtual dissection table is just one example of how technology makes it possible to teach the demanding study of medicine to a larger number of students when previous restrictions on resources would have made it impossible.
Additionally the curriculum itself must be continuously updated, covering not only the latest developments in medical research, but leveraging the latest developments in technology to effectively teach more students, faster and more efficiently. One example of this comes to us from a recent TED Talk featuring Dr. Jack Choi of Anatomage and his virtual dissection table – giving medical students without access to actual human bodies the chance to simulate real autopsies. Before the advent of such technology, medical students would either do without this valuable learning experience, thus restricting their education and preparedness when entering a practice.
Leveraging the ever-expanding library of university-level lectures available through “Open Course Ware” could be another way to disseminate the knowledge of the world’s best instructors to a greater number of willing students – even if only as a supplement to their regular studies. Already universities like MIT and Berkley provide an immense amount of lectures for free on both their own websites and on YouTube for anyone in the world to use.
When one walks into a modern intensive care unit, they will most likely notice a variety of advanced biomedical technology monitoring vital signs, administering medication, and assisting doctors and nurses in a large variety of tasks. This equipment is incredibly expensive, and is so precisely because only a handful of companies have a competent research and development team to develop this equipment and a qualified workforce to manufacture it.
Again, increasing the number of people qualified in the fields of design, development, and manufacturing, in any capacity will inevitably expand the number of entrepreneurs involved in biomedical technology, expanding supply and reducing costs. Again this leads us back to improving education to produce the human resources needed.
However, there is another factor that is incredibly important – and that is raising public awareness to just how far we’ve come and what the possibilities are that await us in the near future. Every great scientist, engineer, explorer, or doctor can cite who or what inspired them to take up their chosen trade. Inspiring people to become researchers, designers, doctors, and scientists is just as important as being able to train them to reach their full potential.
Additionally, being fully informed as to what the current state of medical research is, allows us to make more informed decisions regarding public funding and policy. Raising awareness for cutting edge research also builds enthusiasm throughout both the pubic, their representatives in government, and across industry, making available more support and funds for areas of interest we can all agree upon as being beneficial for society.
Bio-printing at Wake Forest
Imagine instead of spending the rest of your life on medication to correct imbalances caused by faulty, failing, or injured organs and instead having a replacement grown, even “printed” for you in the matter of weeks? Applied “regenerative medicine” was once solely in the realm of science fiction, but is now science reality, thanks to researchers at Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine (WFIRM).
Clinical trials have already been performed where tissue samples have been taken from patients, replacement tissue and organs cultivated in WFIRM’s laboratory, and then implanted back into the patient. Revolutionary research and development like this could be multiplied exponentially with a properly informed population, properly educated youth, and a larger pool of both medical practitioners and biomedical technology developers.
Gene-Therapy at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital
Imagine going to the doctor with a condition, and instead of leaving with a prescription medication to take (and pay for) for the rest of your life, you walked out with a permanent treatment derived from simply correcting your problem on a genetic level. For patients suffering from hemophilia B, a disorder where blood does not properly clot during bleeding, this is now becoming a reality.
At St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis Tennessee a treatment involving the modification of a patient’s DNA through gene therapy has yielded unexpectedly positive results, opening the door not only for the permanent treatment for hemophilia B, but hemophilia A – a more common variant – as well as other more complex conditions in the future.
Combined with bio-printing, gene therapy stands to turn the concept of medical treatment on its head, excising from the pharmaceutical giants a massive proportion of their profits and subsequently their grip on government through their immense lobbying efforts. Such lobbying efforts, however might explain why more people are aware of, and even on the toxic cocktails they produce, and clueless about the revolutionary work taking place at St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital.
DNA Sequencing and Printing at the J. Craig Venter Institute
What if you could have your DNA sequenced in the morning, repaired and reintroduced into your body by evening? The steps necessary for such a future are being taken first at the J. Craig Venter Institute. Dr. Craig Venter pioneered methods of sequencing DNA and was first to map the human genome. Since then, his institute has created the first “synthetic lifeform,” engineered on the genetic level and “printed” with a machine that combines the basic chemicals found in DNA, then swapping out the genes of an existing species of bacteria with Venter’s own creation.
Eventually it may be possible to combine the work of Venter with that of both St. Jude’s and Wake Forest to treat nearly every conceivable condition, from injuries and failing organs, to genetic conditions like hemophilia, and even aging. Yet the work of scientists like Venter suffers from underfunding and under exposure, narrowing the choices they have of who to turn to for funding and being faced with the prospect of either ending their research or compromising their goals and ethics for the sake of a profiteering corporation. This is why it is essential to raise awareness of this revolutionary work so that it ends up cultivated by those who seek to serve humanity rather than exploited by those who seek to dominate it. (An additional note of caution about Craig Venter can be found HERE – Ed.)
Already around the world people old and young alike come together to share a passion for designing, tinkering, building, and modifying. Similar to MIT professor Neil Gershenfeld’s “Fabrication Laboratories” (Fab Labs), these groups not only serve as a community resource for solving problems on a local level, but have served as the launching pad for aspiring entrepreneurs.New York City’s “Resistor” collective has produced not only a company that makes and sells 3D printers called “MakerBots,” but many of its members are involved in the “Make Magazine” publication and videos.
These groups as well as individuals constitute an expanding “maker culture” and are tackling problems with innovation and ingenuity across the spectrum from the mundane and comical, to the incredibly practical and even revolutionary. Medical technology, especially in non-critical areas, has also benefited from this Do-It-Yourself culture.
Renowned in maker circles is “Hack-a-Day,” featuring projects from around the world, including an entire category titled, “Medical Hacks.” One project titled, “CheapStat: An Open-Source Potentiostat,” features an open-source version of a device used to analyze the chemical composition of substances at a fraction of the cost of a commercial unit. Other devices measuring pulse, or automating medication dispensers also demonstrate the possibilities of a bottom-up model of research and development of medical technology that will overall reduce its cost while increasing accessibility for more people.
As manufacturing technology becomes smaller, cheaper, and easier to use, hobbyists and professionals alike will be able to implement their ideas quicker and more efficiently, and through the use of information technology, collaborate and disseminate their work at a greater pace.
This “do-it-yourself” mentality used to be a hallmark of American society, and coincidentally produced a culture with a “can-do” attitude. It is not only possible for America to solve its problems today with such a mentality, but an absolute necessity. The nanny-state run by faux-governance controlled by corporate-financiers demonstratively doesn’t work.
When we understand the true problem facing us in terms of providing quality, affordable healthcare to an entire population, that it ultimately hinges on supply and demand, and that education, technology, and innovation are the only ways to truly resolve this problem, the debate over healthcare ends. By no means should any nation simply pull the plug on benefit plans people depend on no matter how ill-conceived they are, or how inadequate the care they provide may be. However, we must look at subsidized programs as a temporary stop-gap while we pursue permanent, pragmatic solutions seeking to solve permanently problems the government and the corporations that they truly represent seek to perpetuate indefinitely.
Instead of figuring out the best way to funnel public funds into the pockets of Bayer, Gilead, Pfzier, Roche, and GlaxoSmithKline to treat the symptoms of diseases ad infinitum, bankrupting ourselves and our nation while these gargantuan multinationals get larger yet, we should be investing in education, research and development, and dedicating our time to studying design, innovation, and technology to prevent diseases where possible and cure diseases permanently when prevention isn’t enough.
A single individual’s contributions to either tackling these problems head-on, or simply raising awareness of these issues and ideas to generate the support innovators and pioneers need to continue doing their work honestly, openly, and for the benefit of mankind may seem negligible, but our collective efforts can eclipse even that of the largest multinationals by many factors.
The state of the society we live in, including the quality and future of our healthcare, is determined daily by how we collectively choose to spend our time, money, attention, and energy. Spend it wisely and we will achieve true progress. Spend it poorly and we will continue to be mired in this circular futile healthcare debate, where we are promised the sky, receive nothing, all while large pharmaceutical and insurance companies prosper.
Demand from your elected representatives that for every nanny-state solution they propose, they develop two more to improve education, research and development to produce permanent, pragmatic solutions. Ensure that they include benchmarks for achieving these goals and language in each panned entitlement program that clearly states such socialist policies are meant only to ensure people do not go without proper care until innovation, ingenuity, and invention provide care they can afford without subsidies.
If elected representatives insist on serving corporate-financier interests instead of the best interests of the people; if they insist, as Representative Mike Rogers of Michigan does, on dangling accurate depictions of our current problems before us, but then disingenuously continuing to compound them, we must begin organizing, collaborating, and solving these problems on our own, at a local level, and ensuring that our resources go to those truly seeking to solve these problems with innovation and ingenuity instead of to exploiters, lobbyists, and shareholders and their proxies in government.
Since the dawn of man we have ensured our survival, prosperity, and progress by building better spears, devising new technologies, and climbing over the next horizon. The day we stop doing this, is the day we stop moving forward. Politicians who would have us ration our resources and relinquish our health to policies and rationing regimes conjured up by bureaucrats would have ensured our extinction ages ago if braver visionaries didn’t prevail. Today, braver visionaries must prevail. End the healthcare debate today, and begin tomorrow with a new dialogue on how to use improved education, innovation, and development to expand the supply of competent medical practitioners and the technology they need to provide the best healthcare possible to all.
Tony Cartalucci is the writer and editor at Land Destroyer