Chronic diseases continue to be the bane of developed economies. Mexico has an additional problem in the shape of infectious diseases, which still affect millions of individuals every year. While many strategies have been implemented to tackle these problems, the sector has not found a one size fits all solution. However, all sectors, each in their own way, is searching for the next treatment that might save a life. At Mexico Health Summit 2019, held at Papalote Museo del Niño on Thursday in Mexico City, panelists addressed relevant research lines that, in the near future, will address the problems of today.
A pressing problem, agreed panelists, is identifying the problem on time. “Doctors arrive late; we only treat patients once they are sick,” said David Kershenobich, Director General of INCMNSZ. Preventing a disease is not just cheaper than treating it but it is overall better for the patient, who can avoid complex treatments, medications and surgeries. For that reason, many researchers are looking for better, faster and more precise diagnostic techniques. Luckily, there are tools to facilitate this. “Through the incorporation of the human genome map we will be able to develop innovative medical solutions,” said Felipe Vadillo, Professor and Director of Research at INMEGEN. Kershenobich agreed on the importance of new research lines in addressing diseases: “Another important area is research on the human microbiome, which will allow the generation of numerous treatments,” he said.
Current research is already bearing fruit. “Many treatments that we only dreamed about 10 years ago are now a reality. For instance, US hospitals can now perform liquid biopsies that allow for an easier and faster diagnosis,” said Diddier Prada, Researcher of Medical Sciences of INCan. Moreover, research can also help to prevent a disease altogether. “An interesting area is the development of psychological profiles to identify individuals who do not look after their own health. These profiles will allow doctors to develop better strategies to monitor them and entice them to improve their habits to have a better life,” said Prada.
An area where prevention will be key is chronic diseases, due to their complexity and the limited understanding of them. “Mexicans need to understand that chronic diseases have a complex nature. Even doctors still do not know how they fully work,” said Vadillo. Moreover, chronic diseases place a significant burden on patients and their families. “Chronic diseases force patients to take medications for their entire life,” said Laura Padierna, Director of Biological Applications at LEI. Padierna added that through genomic therapy it may be possible to cure instead of manage these diseases, and the panelists agreed that at this point preventing the disease is more viable. “We have to reach patients earlier through preventive medicine. New screening techniques can allow patients to know their susceptibility to certain diseases before they happen,” said Kershenobich.
Prevention is not just the responsibility of the patient; doctors also play an essential role. “At schools, students are taught to treat diseases. They are provided few classes on preventive measures. Preventive medicine is more effective and less expensive than curative medicine but the country does not have a prevention culture,” said Prada.
Victor Saadia, Founder and CEO of BioCenter, tackled one of Mexico’s biggest problems: the increasing prevalence of obesity. “Obesity and overweight are often multigenerational problems, as very often obese parents have obese children.” In that sense, innovation can also play an important role and even the private sector has taken notice. “About half of Silicon Valley companies address nutrition in one way or another,” said Kershenobich. “This concept is becoming increasingly important and companies are researching the production of better foods that allow individuals to live healthier lives. Mexico has a broad range of unique foods but the country is not taking advantage of this amazing variety.”
While many potential treatments for chronic diseases are being researched at any given time, the importance of prevention has not received the same level of attention. “At this point there are no public programs that research the role of prevention in healthcare,” said Prada. However, its role will only become more importance with time. “Life expectancy is increasing in Mexico and the world, which implies an increasing number of seniors who will require continuous care and monitoring to maintain their quality of life,” said Prada.