Are Afflicted Researchers Also Conflicted Researchers?

Last month, a research team out of Brigham Young University published a paper on molecular pathways that might activate the replication of beta cells in the body-- the pancreas cells that produce insulin and that are killed by the immune system in people with diabetes.

In other words, this lab is working on a potential cure for diabetes, one that would stimulate the creation of those very cells that were killed in the autoimmune response that leads to type 1 diabetes in the first place.

While their research is interesting (and admittedly over my head), what's just as compelling is exactly which students make up most of this research team: namely, four of the students have type 1 diabetes.

“We’ll always be the first ones to volunteer to get injected with whatever’s next in search of a cure,” sophomore Sam Grover tells BYU's Daily Herald. “My diagnosis has given me a path in life and I’ve found what I’m passionate about—because it’s who I am."

The history of medicine and major advancements in medical treatments features more than a few examples of researchers using themselves as test volunteers: The pioneers of the vaccine era-- Hilleman, Plotkin, Koprowski and others-- routinely tested their vaccines on themselves (and sometimes on their immediate family members) and in fact Nobel laureate MacFarlane Burnet injected himself with the rabbit myxoma virus, and fellow Nobel laureate Barry Marshall infected himself with a cancer-causing bacteria in order to prove its activity in the stomach-- so in this respect what they're doing is not new.

But can they remain objective and unbiased? It's not often you read about researchers afflicted with the very disease they are working to cure, although for instance in cancer research, while those researchers may not have cancer, in that field it's almost always somehow personal.

Here's a video that accompanied the press release and you can decide for yourself if afflicted researchers perhaps make for better researchers, or simply more conflicted ones.

Source: BYU

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