>The New York times had an article the other day about doctors who experiment on themselves – an age old tradition. (Even Sherlock Holmes was said to have begun his addiction to cocaine this way.And most of us might remember Dr. Jekyll.) Knowledge and treatments that save lives have resulted from pioneers willing to die (or at least risk getting sick) for their investigations:
BACK when the two Australian winners of this year’s Nobel Prize in Medicine suspected that the bacteria they were seeing in biopsies caused stomach inflammation and ulcers, critics insisted that the bacteria were just opportunists, not the culprits.
So one of the two, Dr. Barry J. Marshall, set out to prove the theory by following a traditional method of scientific research: he experimented on himself.
In 1984, Dr. Marshall gulped a potent cocktail of pure Helicobacter pylori bacteria. And promptly became ill. What’s more, his breath stank. Biopsies showed he had developed stomach inflammation that was not there before. Treatment cured the infection and Dr. Marshall stopped the experiment short of getting a full-blown ulcer. But he had made his point.
How many other Dr. Marshalls are out there – scientists who become their own guinea pigs?
Dr. Willerson, the President of the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston went to Brazil where it was at least easier to get approval to carry out his research in adult cardiac stem cells (harvested from each patient, her- or himself). But, before he tried his treatment on anyone else, he injected his own cells into a mouse with cardiac damage that mimicked a heart attack.
I’m grateful to those giants who have gone before me in medicine, but I’m concerned that today’s manipulation of stem cells, viruses, and gene manipulation are much too dangerous for the world of our children and grandchildren. The discussion about recombinant DNA and gene therapy since the ’70’s should alert us all to the dangers.
I don’t have any scheme for preventing private scientific research such as Dr. Willerson’s. In fact, I believe that he is a man who is just as concerned as I am for our future children. I hope that there will be continued, reasonable discussion on the practice and risks of such experiments.