Articles, PSQH September 6, 2012

Super-Organism Focused Healthcare

by Barry P Chaiken, MD

About 10 trillion cells make up the human body. The joining of eggs and sperm at the time of fertilization brings together 23,000 genes. In a healthy gut alone, more than 100 trillion bacteria thrive.

Scientists estimate that the microbiome—the term used to describe all the bacteria and other organisms that live on and within us—collectively represent more than three million genes. These bacteria live symbiotically with us, providing a variety of beneficial protections while we offer them raw materials and a nice, warm shelter in which to grow and reproduce. For most of medical history, physicians studied disease states without consideration of the microbiome. Only recently have researchers viewed the human body as a super-organism, influenced as much by the genetics of the host as by the permanent bacterial residents.

The microbiome offers humans an expanded ability to thrive within their environment by offering additional functionality—such as breaking down complex carbohydrates—that would be difficult to code within our limited number of genes. Through evolution bacteria chose us, and we chose bacteria, establishing a powerful, mutually beneficial relationship.

Even today, the new medical knowledge produced in even narrow disciplines exceeds the capacity of any physician to assimilate and apply effectively. Adding the complexity of the microbiome only makes the task of assimilating the relevant medical knowledge further out of reach.

Health information technology offers clinicians tools to manage this avalanche of information. As new knowledge is obtained, this information can be codified in guidelines, order sets, and searchable knowledge bases, relieving physicians of the impossible burden of assimilating all this new information.

Excerpts from: Super-Organism Focused Healthcare. PSQH, September/October, 2012


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