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THE FACTORY MODEL OF DISEASE * * * * * * Neil E. Williams (University at Buffalo) Philosophy of Biology Symposium September 29 th 2007. Three Aims of this Presentation:. Primary Aim: Suggest a new metaphor for thinking about disease. Germ Theory of Disease. Attack by Foreigners.
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THE FACTORY MODEL OF DISEASE* * * * * *Neil E. Williams (University at Buffalo) Philosophy of Biology SymposiumSeptember 29th 2007
Three Aims of this Presentation: Primary Aim: Suggest a new metaphor for thinking about disease
Germ Theory of Disease Attack by Foreigners
Germ Theory of Disease Useful in 19th Century; now antiquated Misses out on a great number of diseases: genetic diseases, immune system diseases, nutritional deficiencies, mental illnesses
Three Aims of this Presentation: Primary Aim: Suggest a new metaphor for thinking about disease Secondary Aims: Reconsider the place of causation in disease Offer a refurbished analysis of ‘disease’
Plan of Attack 1 - Distinguish diseases from disorders 2 - Standards for structure 3 - Causes and Cellular Processes 4 - The Factory Model 5 - Disease Re-Defined
Part of establishing a clear understanding of disease requires distinguishing cases of disease from non-disease • This helps restrict the class of diseases, but will also provide a parallel framework against which disease can be understood
Because ‘disease’ has long been treated as the ‘absence of health’, there has been a tendency to lump in all sorts of medical conditions under a the general name ‘disease’ Broken Arms Hernias Ingrown Toenails Gall Stones Color-blindness
Disorders • By ‘disorder’ I will understand a purely structuraldeviation from the norm • ‘Structure’ is an anatomical catch-all including: topography, shape, proportion and number • Determination of disorder is independent of cause and of need for medical attention
Disorders are bodily states of anatomical abnormality • They are deviations—as such they arise against a backdrop of structural normality • But what is normal?
Within comparison classes we find a high degree of structural similarity • This allows us to determine statistical averages that determine a standard (Foundational Model of Anatomy – Rosse and Mejino 2003) • Comparison is made against that standard
The Canonical Skeleton • An excellent case concerns the human skeleton • The canonical skeleton is part statistical average, part prototype, so is insensitive to minor contingent peculiarities • Canonical is not ideal (ideal for what?) • Consider the IRS’s concept of average tax payer: it is not merely a numerical average
Other disorders are modeled on the skeletal case: musculature, cells, organs, vascular system • We have excellent information about human biological architecture • Borderline cases come out in the wash (medical practitioners are highly successful at recognizing and naming what I have called ‘disorders’)
The general model of deviation as it pertains to disorder will be used in the consideration of disease • Disorder concerns bodily structure; disease concerns cells and cellular processes • Disease will be defined against a backdrop of standard processes of cellular interation
Cells as ‘Power-Centres’ • Every cell has, as part of its biological programming, a vast range of capacities • The causal ‘preparedness’ of the cell includes instructions for what to do in the presence or absence of various molecules and other cells • Most responses are homeostatic and fall within a limited range
Due to contingent features, only a small number of these capacities are ever exercised • Cells are not agents: responses are programmed • Typically stable environments makes for routine cellular responses
Cellular environments include various chemicals, but also other cells • Cells operate reciprocally with other cells • Cells individually contribute to what are mutual effects • These co-operative interactions make for cellular networks
We can think of the actions of the cell within a cellular network (or within the body as a whole) as analogous with the place of the assembly-line factory worker within the factory
Simple Tasks; Complex Results • Humans owe their biological complexity and adaptive success to the same features that make assembly-lines so good for output: Division of labour Specialized tasks Bringing work to the worker
But just like the factory worker, that a cell performs a specific role does not mean it is not capable of far more • Cells can be re-assigned within the body to perform different tasks, just like a factory worker who labels bottles can be asked to cap them instead
Reflecting on the cell/factory worker analogy, we can get a rudimentary sense of the account of disease on offer when we imagine some ways how things might go wrong at the factory • the method of breakdown or cessation of factory production is akin to distortions of typical cellular processes, and those distorted processes will constitute diseases
Trouble at Mill? 1 – Problems internal to the worker Shirley is sick, hungry, confused 2 – Problems within/across Co-workers Laverne is angry, jealous, confused 3 – Lack of Resources 4 – Lack of Power 5 – Assembly line blockages
Trouble at Cell? 1 – Problems internal to the cell Cell cannot operate; instructions 2 – Problems within/across cells Miscoding; chemical issues 3 – Lack of Resources 4 – Lack of Energy 5 – Physical Occlusions
Disease or Disorder? • You may have noted that some of the problems are themselves disorders • The disorder is not the disease, but could be a cause • As might be expected, disorders can give rise to distorted cellular processes, thereby resulting in diseases (and diseases might give rise to disorders)
Disease or Symptom? • Mistaking disorders for disease is akin to mistaking symptoms for diseases • A symptom is something that arises because of a disease, but is not the disease itself • It can serve as an indicator of a disease
x is a disease =dfx is a prolonged distortion of cellular network processes, wherein the activities of the network: (i) fall outside an acceptable normal range for the organism’s comparison class,
x is a disease =dfx is a prolonged distortion of cellular network processes, wherein the activities of the network: (ii) are not capable of remedy by the system itself without thereby distorting the activities of some other network, and
x is a disease =dfx is a prolonged distortion of cellular network processes, wherein the activities of the network: (iii) tend to reduce the organism’s ability to cope with environmental pressures