By Jake Weber
From ancient Chinese medicine to treatments that are still in the future, Lawrence Schook, '72, applied his extensive knowledge to the topic of personal health for the 23rd annual Elkin R. Isaac Student Research Symposium Alumni Lecture, held April 18.
One of the country's most prominent animal gene researchers, Schook also teaches and researches in the fields of bioengineering, nutritional science, pathobiology, genomic biology, pathology and surgery at the University of Illinois. Nonetheless, he opened his talk with the assertion that "health and wellness are more than just science and technology." For instance, he noted that many medical advances of the 19th and 20th centuries were made in response to epidemic disease and other public health concerns. Likewise, health … "also reflects national policies and programs," including nutrition and societal norms for the use of tobacco and alcohol, he stated.
With scientific advances, "we've gone from the best outcome – longer life – to … living longer with chronic disease." Schook stressed that the traditional advice of good nutrition and exercise are still the most important actions people can take to reduce their chances of developing most chronic diseases. He also noted that ancient Chinese treatments including herbal teas and acupuncture have "been very successful, albeit due to unknown scientific mechanisms," he said.
Schook further noted that the rise in health care costs, a serious issue for the nation, are "linked not so much with physician and drug costs, but for nursing and hospital care," costs associated with chronic disease, he said. "How you live today will have an effect on your health in the next 40 or 50 years," with further impact on the affordability of health care.
Nonetheless, Schook also outlined many new frontiers for personal health empowerment, incorporating "individualized medicine" and electronic communications that will help offset issues related to sedentary and stressful lifestyles. The lowering cost of sequencing individual genes, he said, makes it likely that within the next 10 years, "half of you will have had your genes sequenced and be enrolled in some type of individual health program."
A better understanding of personal genes can provide specific information on a person's likelihood of developing gene-related diseases such as breast cancer or Alzheimer's. As importantly, Schook explained, genetic information will assist doctors with determining which drugs, in which doses, will be most effective for each patient. "All of us have watched TV commercials filled with happy patients …. that end with a list of potentially disgusting [side effects]," he explained. Genetic information "will help doctors prescribe drugs which will work for your specific profile."
Schook is applying his research and resources to promote wellness in new ways. With the Mayo Clinic, he's helping develop programs that incorporate new gene-based technology into patient care. In the private sector, Schook is helping private companies develop supplements based on research into nutrition and development. "A new trend in research is 'open innovation,' where a health company can work with a research university to quickly turn our scientific discovery into new products."
In closing, Schook encouraged the students to "learn to create solutions. … Solving our health care problem requires teams of experts in policy, public health, communications … we need people of vision who can connect broad discovery to applications that solve problems," he said.
"It doesn't matter whether you major in the humanities or sciences," he said. "This college – our college – is the intellectual environment that you need … Albion is committed to creating great leaders who are equipped to serve our communities. The future is uncertain but some of you will be the people who save lives by solving critical health problems."