The Annual Pembroke Circle Lecture 2015

by Katie McIvor

The Annual Pembroke Circle Lecture was held on Saturday 26th September this year. Professor Ashok Venkitaraman spoke on developments in science and technology and their potential impact on the future of medicine.

Ashok_VenkitaramanRapid advances in medical science and the technologies applied to medical problems are together transforming the understanding and treatment of human diseases. But these advances are also throwing up scientific, social and ethical dilemmas that have equally profound –but potentially less positive – implications. For instance, the ability to sequence the DNA code of individuals quickly and at rapidly diminishing cost promises to enable disease prevention besides personalized therapy – but the science necessary for the accurate interpretation of these vast data remains nascent and incomplete, and the ethical implications of personalized health prediction remain under-explored. In a similar vein, advances in regenerative medicine from stem cells promise to considerably extend the human life-span – but our analysis of the social repercussions of consequent demographic changes are rudimentary. More immediately, rapid advances in medical science and technology expose growing gaps between the rich and the poor across the world’s societies. Whilst currently preventable or treatable causes of death like infectious diseases continue to take a major toll of the world’s poor even at a young age, many of the most lauded advances in health technology focus on conditions like cancer, neurodegenerative illnesses or aging. Step changes in our ability to translate existing knowledge concerning the molecular basis of disease to the discovery of new drugs could therefore be transformative. Indeed, my own research seeks solutions for the unsustainable cost and inefficiency of creating next-generation medicines, and to make new strategies for drug discovery and development cheaper and more accessible. Thus, in many ways, the accelerating advance of medical knowledge and technology in unforeseen – perhaps unforeseeable – directions underscores the essential veracity of ‘Yogi’ Berra’s observation: “It’s tough to make predictions…. especially about the future.” – Ashok Venkitaraman

The Pembroke College Circle is a society which brings together friends of Pembroke from all over the world. People who have a connection to Pembroke, such as former summer school students and spouses of Pembroke members, can stay in contact with the College through the Circle’s events and newsletter.