Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Why it takes time to identify a disease, pathogen: the answer lies in lack of clinician-scientists

Syed Akbar
Hyderabad: If the recent suspected cases of hantavirus in the
State remained a scientific mystery, it is because of the poor concept
of clinical scientists in the country. Mostly general scientists
without medical background man all the research laboratories in India.
While countries like the USA have a high percentage of clinical
scientists, ironically it’s not even one per cent in India. This is
because medical doctors in the country do not like to join research
laboratories and the research work is largely carried out by those
holding degrees in pure or applied sciences.

Amidst claims and denials by hospitals and government respectively,
the truth about the hantavirus in Andhra Pradesh will never come out.

The need for clinical scientists is felt more now as newer pathogens
and diseases are emerging thanks to change in climate, local
environment, abuse of antibiotics and wrong diagnosis of infectious
diseases. A clinical scientist (medical doctor doing research in
science) is equipped with the knowledge of medicine and science and
this helps him in the better understanding of the host (patient) and
the pathogen (disease-causing organism).

“A general scientist deals exclusively with the pathogens. Though he
has knowledge of the disease-causing organism and the disease, he does
not have sufficient info about the human physiology and pathology. On
the other hand, a clinician (doctor) knows well about the human system
but he does not know much about the pathogen. But a clinical scientist
has the knowledge of both the host and the parasite,” observes senior
geneticist Dr MN Khaja.

In the case of suspected hantavirus reported in Karimnagar and Nellore
districts, the doctors attending on the patients treated them from the
point of medicine and not from the point of science. The doctors
declared the cases as those of hantavirus based on antibodies present
in the blood samples. They did not send the samples for serotype
examination. As a result, the doctors could not find out which of the
about two dozen hantaviruses now in circulation had “caused” the
disease.

“We have followed the standard medical procedure of identifying the
disease through antibodies,” says senior physician Dr MV Rao, who
dealt with one of the suspected hantavirus patients.

Though identifying the disease though antibodies is important as the
results are obtained quickly providing medicare in time, the study of
the nature of the pathogen will help in prevention of the spread of
the disease. Laboratories in advanced nations have around 20 to 30 per
cent of clinical scientists manning them. However, in India it’s not
even one per cent of the scientific manpower.

1 comment:

Alvaro said...

This "hantavirus" posting, completely useful..