DARWIN IN MEDICINE: Why Evolution is relevant for research and medical practice
April 19-23, 2022 Erice, Sicily, ITALY
WORKSHOP ORGANIZERS: Martin Brϋne, MD (Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Germany) Paola Palanza, PhD (Università di Parma, Italy) Stefano Parmigiani (Università di Parma, Italy)
Full information at https://centromajorana.it/darwin2022/
The purpose of this interdisciplinary course is to understand why and how the evolutionary perspective is relevant for medicine, both in terms of research and practice (i.e. why we need “Evolutionary Medicine”). Although there is controversy about to what extent modern human populations have deviated – genetically and behaviorally – from our hunter-gatherer ancestors, growing evidence suggests that humans have continued and still continue to evolve. However, when clinicians are asked about the relevance of evolutionary theory in their disciplines, many express interest but find the approach more or less irrelevant for everyday practice. This is a profound misconception of what evolution may tell about disease development and counterstrategies. The misconception, in part, resides in the belief that human evolution has been slow and that anatomical and physiological characteristics of our species (i.e. our bauplan) have changed very little in the last 80,000 years or so. A more detailed look, however, reveals that changing ecological contingencies have turned into risk factors for somatic disease and psychological disorders. For example, adaptations to the past environments including nutritional requirements, exposure to pathogens, social issues etc. have now turned into “epidemics” of autoimmune diseases, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity, several forms of cancer, depression, anxiety and other psychiatric conditions. Taken together, we believe that the understanding of evolutionary processes in medicine is not just an academic exercise, but imperative to better understand, diagnose, prevent, and treat medical conditions.
Information and Registration: http://schools.centromajorana.it/evomed2022
Thursday, February 10th at 12pm EST/18:00 CET
Candidate gene studies have taught us little about trait genetics but a lot about the fallibility of the scientific process
Join us for a conversation with Matt Keller, Associate Professor in the Dept. of Psychology & Neuroscience at the University of Colorado, Boulder. The candidate gene (CG) approach has been used for 30 years to investigate the influence of specific polymorphisms in genes thought a-priori to be related to complex traits. Thousands of such studies have been and continue to be conducted, most reporting significant associations. In the last 15 years, a much different approach, the genome-wide association study (GWAS), has been used to investigate nearly all common genetic polymorphisms across the genome at once. Using sample sizes orders of magnitude larger than typical CG studies, GWASs have made tens of thousands of reliable discoveries, but the effect sizes are typically much smaller than those detected in CG studies, and specific CG hypotheses have failed to replicate when directly interrogated in GWAS data. What might explain these apparent contradictions? It is possible that CG studies measure traits with higher precision or that they investigate less complex “endophenotypes,” but neither explanation holds up under scrutiny. Rather, CG studies suffer from many factors—publication bias, inconsistent methodological practices, low priors, and low power—that increase the false positive rate in any field. We argue that the many positive findings using the GC approach are largely false positives and are a humbling reminder of the fallibility of the scientific process as currently practiced.
Attendees are encouraged to read Duncan and Keller 2011, “A critical review of the first 10 years of candidate gene-by-environment interaction research in psychiatry” and Border et al. 2019, “No support for historical candidate gene or candidate gene-by-interaction hypotheses for major depression across multiple large samples.” Attendees may also be interested in a response to critique (Border et al. 2019) and a popular media article about this research (Yong). Sign up here for the meeting link: https://duke.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJEodOqsqD4qGtIh9AW_utDNUiz9ubSHwDw5.
Thursday, February 24th at 12pm EST/18:00 CET: Evolutionary medicine helps explain regional differences in pandemic dynamics: immunity, symbiosis, and COVID-19
Join us for a conversation with William Parker, CEO of WPLabs, Inc., and Dawit Wolday, Associate Professor of Medicine at Mekelle University College of Health Sciences. Data have been mounting for more than 50 years pointing toward the importance of “complex eukaryotic symbionts” in immune system development and function. These symbionts include protists, cestodes and nematodes, most of which have been lost to humans in high-income countries. Such loss is a direct result of the much-needed introduction of “systems hygiene” that effectively prevents pandemics of some communicable diseases. Unfortunately, available evidence indicates that the loss of complex eukaryotic symbionts in high-income countries can be defined as an evolutionary mismatch that leads to immune dysregulation and pathologic inflammation. With the immunological effects of these symbionts in mind, the speakers predicted that the presence of complex eukaryotic symbionts in areas without extensive systems hygiene would effectively decrease the clinical impact of COVID-19. This prediction was subsequently supported strongly by epidemiological evidence and eventually borne out in a study by Tobias Rinke de Wit, Dawit Wolday and colleagues in Ethiopia. Thus, evolutionary medicine proved a useful tool in understanding and anticipating regional differences in the clinical impact of COVID-19, and points toward the vital importance of understanding symbiotic relationships in the context of evolution and medicine.
Attendees are encouraged to read Parker et al. 2021, “Between a hygiene rock and a hygienic hard place: avoiding SARS-CoV-2 while needing environmental exposures for immunity” and Wolday et al. 2021, “Effect of co-infection with intestinal parasites on COVID-19 severity: a prospective observational cohort study.” Sign up here for the meeting link: https://duke.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJ0ucOmopjkuGtEnHVSe_bx-9cfLBWb2Ir5A.
Spring 2022 Events
We’re pleased to announce our spring Club EvMed lineup. See you in 2022!
Control system failures and evolutionary medicine
Tuesday, January 11th at 12pm EST/18:00 CET
Join us for a conversation with Robert Perlman, Professor Emeritus of the Dept. of Pharmacological and Physiological Sciences at the University of Chicago, and Randolph Nesse, Research Professor of Life Sciences and Founding Director of the Center for Evolution & Medicine at Arizona State University. They will lead a discussion about how natural selection shaped the thousands of control systems that make life possible, how their failure modes can help us understand disease, and the evolutionary reasons why some are especially vulnerable to failure. The goal is to create a community interested in developing work at this intersection, so please come prepared to share examples of how we can study why some control systems are vulnerable to failure.
Attendees are encouraged to read Perlman 2019*, “An evolutionary view of homeostasis: bioenergetics, life history theory, and responses to pregnancy” and Nesse 2021, “Evolutionary medicine needs engineering expertise.” Sign up here for the meeting link.
*Note: If you do not have access to this article, please contact us for assistance.
A Natural History of the Future
Tuesday, January 18th at 12pm EST/18:00 CET
Join us for a conversation with Rob Dunn, William Neal Reynolds Distinguished Professor of Applied Ecology at North Carolina State University. Drawing on his recent book, Rob Dunn argues that humans remain far more dependent on nature and nature’s regularities/rules/laws than tends to be presupposed. Focusing on the special case of microbiomes, Dunn considers the question, just how many microbial species do we depend on and how might we ensure that they travel with us into the future? In concluding, he will open up the question to the group to discuss what the most likely scenario is with regard to the intergenerational transfer of the species on which we depend as well as what the hoped for scenario might look like. Sign up here for the meeting link.