Sonntag, 18. Oktober 2009

Evolutionäre Medizin - den Globus heilen

Von Reinhold Leinfelder

Vom 14. - 18. Oktober 2009 fand unter der Schirmherrschaft der Bundeskanzlerin sowie des französischen Staatspräsidenten der World Health Summit an der Charité in Berlin statt. Im Rahmen dieses Gipfels organisierte die Charité mit der Berlin-Brandenburgischen Akademie der Wissenschaften und der Volkswagenstiftung ein hochrangiges Arbeitssymposium zum neuen Forschungsfeld "Evolutionäre Medizin" unter dem Thema "Diseases of Civilisation", welches am 13. und 14. Oktober 2010 unter der Leitung von Prof. Dr. Randolph Nesse stattfand.
(Bild aus

Der Tagesspiegel schreibt hierzu (16.10.09): "... das Anliegen des amerikanischen Biologen Randolph Nesse, der ebenfalls an der Eröffnungspressekonferenz teilnahm, .... Er hoffe, dass alle von dem Kongress mitnähmen, wie wichtig Darwin für die Medizin sei, sagte er. „Um zu verstehen, warum unser Körper von bestimmten Erkrankungen bedroht ist, müssen wir die Gründe für die natürliche Selektion verstehen.“ Nesse gilt als einer der Begründer der evolutionären Medizin. Forscher auf diesem Gebiet versuchen, Krankheiten im Rahmen der Evolution zu erklären.
Man könne die Regeln der Evolutionstheorie auch auf das Gesundheitssystem anwenden, sagte Nesse und verwies auf das Motto des Gipfels „Evolution der Medizin“. Auch das Gesundheitssystem sei etwas, das gewachsen und von äußeren Kräften geformt worden sei. Das Ergebnis sei genauso fehlerhaft wie der menschliche Körper. So sei es ein offensichtlicher Makel, dass manche Länder wichtige Medikamente nicht hätten, weil sie sich diese nicht leisten können. „Wir müssen endlich verstehen, warum das so ist, und es ändern.“ (> zum Artikel).

Am Abend des 13.10. fand im Dinosauriersaal des kooperierenden Museums für Naturkunde Berlin ein Abendempfang für die Symposiumsteilnehmer zur Evolutionären Medizin statt. Natürlich wurde auch die Darwin-Ausstellung besichtigt. Das Grußwort des Generaldirektors finden Sie nachstehend. (> mehr Infos zu evolutionärer Medizin)

---- Welcome Address by Reinhold Leinfelder ----

Dear Dr. Detlev Ganten, dear Dr. Randolph Nesse, dear colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,

After you have had a first fruitful day at the symposium „Evolutionary Medicine“, which is an integral part of the World Health Summit here in Berlin, it is a pleasure to welcome you here to a "night at the museum", the Museum für Naturkunde. You are here in the midst of these old guys, actually they are very old, about 150 Million years old, but as you might know, you are not in a exhibition temple but rather in a vivid research museum which houses - as our major research infrastructure - more than 30 million objects. However, I won’t tell you about all these objects tonight, I’d rather tell you a bit, how this museum, with its main focus on evolution, also has its, partly unexpected, relations to medicine.

Here are a few examples:

As the Charité, the museum also celebrates an important anniversary next year, but whereas the Charité will have its 300. anniversary, we are only 200 years old (and this building is even younger, namely from 1889). However our collections are partially much older, dating back in some cases to the 16th century, and a lot of material is from the 18th century.

Actually, one of the oldest and culturally as well as scientifically most important collections which we house is from a physician from Berlin, Marcus Elesier Bloch who collected this material in the 18th century. He is considered the founder of ichthyology, the science of fishes. Being a physician, his scientific work is really special. It is amazing, how he described the anatomy of known and new species, including their ecological behaviour, and how he added very fine copperplate prints - but he went further: To each and every of the described species, he added the best cooking recipe, and not only this - he even suggested variations. If you have a weak stomach, he suggests a different cooking style than if you can have it more spicy. And he even gave, let’s say, pyschotheological advice: Although the cat fish is delicious, it is, in his eyes, so ugly that it would be a sin to eat and relish this devilish fish. However, he still gives advise how those who eat it, should cook it.

Or another example: Actually, it were the Humboldt brothers who convinced the prussian King that all these very distributed collections, housed at the King’s palace, at various academies and so forth would be lost for research and eductiation if they would not be gathered. Hence, geological, palaeontological, zoological and anatomical collections were gathered and transferred to the newly founded Berlin University (founded in 1810). This was the start of what is now called Museum für Naturkunde, but Virchow who became Ordinarius Professor in 1856 wanted his own museum, and the other collection professors wanted theirs, too. Virchow got his museum in 1899, and we got ours 10 years earlier, which is this very building. By the way, not only Virchow, but also we have meanwhile left university - since the beginning of this year we are an independant foundation and belong to the prestigious Leibniz Association.

In a way it was consequent to split at that time, because Virchow was not really a fan of Darwin, whereas the Museum für Naturkunde always was and continues to be. But as we see, nowadays, physicians are also fans of evolution :-)

This is why today we very fruitfully work together with physicians, such as Dr. Hanns Christian Gunga, from the Charité, who helps us to find out how lungs, heart, blood vessels and stomach must have worked to get this guy (Brachiosaurus brancai) going. By working together with anatomists and physicians, we also know that some dinosaurs must have had strong backaches.

We could add many more examples demonstrating how medicinical aspects and evolution tie together. For instance, we know that several pathways of evolution, such as in some ammonites went through pathogenic traits which were positively selected.

Thus, medicine does help us to understand evolution.
Now it is about time that evolution helps us to understand medicine.

Let me add another thought in this respect.
We here at the museum do not only focus on evolutionary processes, but we also study the product of evolution, biodiversity and selective parameters such as climate change. We believe we know a lot about such complex systems, but we also are aware of the fact that we still know too little. Hence, it appears even more puzzling to us when some geotechnicians come up with ideas of „geoengineering“ in order to „manage“ the climate of the world. They are thinking about fertilising the sea to cause artificial plankton blooms (hoping these nifty critters might use up carbon dioxide), or to continuously blow dust into the atmosphere to shade the world from the sun and hence avoid further heating up.

Well, if we would do the latter, we might have a „nice“ grey sky without sun - and again I see an impact to medicine. Probably there would be less skin cancer, so less dermatologists would be needed, but don’t worry about your profession. We would need much more psychotherapists because I would assume a strong increase of depressions owing to lack of sunlight.

Dear colleagues, as scientists we know that simply curing symptoms by, say, technical treatment is no sustainable solution. We are very glad that a similar view is increasingly been adopted in medicine.

Theodosius Dhobzansky, a famous evolutionary biologist said a wise and frequently cited word in 1970: "Nothing makes sense in biology except in the light of evolution".
I think time is ripe to extend this and also say: "Nothing makes sense in medicine except in the light of evolution".

We hope you will proceed rapidly with this new process-based research. Our collections are a research infrastructure open to all researchers. So if you would like to check our moskitos, bats or apes preserved in alcohol, our fur collections, or any other objects for viruses, bugs or any other so-called pests, feel free to do so.

However, we might not have to start this today, this evening is to celebrate and talk together. Once again, nice having you here, enjoy your night at the museum!

Reinhold Leinfelder, 13. Oct 2009, Museum für Naturkunde, Dinosaur Hall.

Nachtrag vom 21.10.09: Artikel zu World Health Summit und evolutionärer Medizin in heutiger Ausgabe der FAZ: "Durch den Geburtskanal in die Praxis".


  1. Interessanter Artikel! Mir gefällt besonders die Zeichnung oben, die unser Leben genau und so kreativ darstellt.

  2. Jepp, die Grafik ist vielsagend und entspricht unserem Leben.


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