A Pause for Perspective

It’s interesting to consider what people think will affect them personally in light of the winner of the 2014 Longitude Prize. Conceived to be a 21st century version of the competition to design a device that helped ships navigate safely, today’s version of the prize put six topics up to public vote in Britain for £10 million in funding, approximately 17 million in US dollars.

The nominees, selected by a professional committee, were: prevent resistance to Antibiotics; help people with Dementia live independently for longer; lower the environmental impact of Flight; eliminate Food scarcity; restore movement in those with Paralysis; ensure access to safe and clean drinking Water.

The winner, announced yesterday, was Antibiotics.

We have to examine our own bias, since we were certain Dementia would be the winner, given our awareness that much work is needed on both technological and biological fronts to prevent Dementia and to help patients and their caregivers to cope with it.

Yet we are re-assured by an email from Jason N. Doctor, Associate Professor, Pharmaceutical Economics & Policy of the University of Southern California, that British voters chose wisely. He writes, “Although dementia is a tremendous problem, from a health policy perspective the British public has made the right decision to tackle the problem of antibiotics ahead of dementia. If we reach the point where we cannot treat infectious disease, many people will not live long enough to develop dementia. All sorts of medical advances become less useful. Surgeries, childbirth, cancer treatments and organ transplants that suppress the immune system, pneumonia, implantable devices in the hip and knee and kidney dialysis all will have a much higher rate of death due to bacterial infection. For these reasons, it makes sense to tackle antibiotic resistance first.”

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Mycobacterium tuberculosis (TB). Courtesy: Janice Haney Carr/CDC

Yeah, the voters got it right.