Ancient Greek physician Hippocrates proposed that four basic personalities were driven by excess or lack of bodily fluids, the “humors.” Discredited by biochemistry, we may consider the idea humorous, but Hippocrates’ theories began a centuries-long consideration of temperaments and personality in psychology and philosophy.
Other ideas of human health were first spurned and then accepted. Germ theory, the thought that many diseases are caused by microorganisms, was treated with disdain when it was proposed in the sixteenth century. It didn’t receive its due until nineteenth-century experiments by cholera researcher John Snow and chemist Louis Pasteur, among others, proved germ theory’s validity.
Even today we continue to rethink health on the microscopic level. Nutritionist Shelly McGuire and other Washington State University scientists explore microbiomes and helpful bacteria such as those that live in breast milk, which was previously thought to be sterile.
In the practice of medicine, too, we must strive for new ways to get healthcare to people. The inaugural class of future doctors at the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine took their Hippocratic Oaths in August, eager to join the mission to improve access to physicians throughout Washington state. The students will work on medical teams and embed in communities, as they learn everything from medical breakthroughs to biomedical ethics.
Those students are studying at WSU Spokane, where scientists, with the help of twins, also work to understand obesity and other public health problems. The Washington Twin Registry now housed at WSU can show us possible differences between genetic and environmental causes for medical issues.
It’s not only human health that can benefit from reconsideration. The study of canine dementia at WSU’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital and beyond sheds light on a little-known problem for our dogs. WSU scientists are also global research leaders on connections between animals with brain-wasting diseases—from cattle and sheep to elk and deer—and strange, resilient proteins called prions.
Sometimes old ideas need a fresh look. That’s the case with a pair of formerly abandoned methods to fight infections: silver and electrical current. The era of miraculous antibiotics is waning as bacteria adapt and resist, so WSU engineers have used silver, a toxic but effective antibiotic, in nanosized amounts that don’t harm human cells. Other engineering faculty found that precise electrical current, assisted by carbon-fiber “bandages,” can kill off persistent bacteria.
We’re many years from Hippocrates but that same spirit of innovation can work to improve healthcare, even as we honor past achievements, as in the words from the Hippocratic Oath: “I will respect the hard-won scientific gains of those physicians in whose steps I walk.”