Autism research has been marked by an obsession with genetic focused research at the expense of research examining potential environmental causes or triggers of autism. The frozen "it's gotta be genetic" mindset of the autism research establishment identified years ago by Teresa Binstock might finally be shattered by recent efforts including the California Autism Twins Study (CATS). It is interesting too to learn that cancer research has also been slowed by a similar obsession with genetic research and ignoring of possible environmental factors.
In Cancer: Belatedly, Environmental Causes Get their Due Justine Chow and Feifei Li, Research Assistants with the Environmental Working Group, comment on a recent Duke University study which highlights a dramatic change in thinking among cancer specialists and practicing oncologists who now increasingly see pollution and other environmental factors as causes of cancer:
"For decades, most cancer researchers focused on genetics, diet, smoking and aging populations as the chief culprits, all but dismissing other environmental factors. As recently as 2003, a World Health Organization report featured the conventional wisdom that only 1-to-4 percent of all cancers were due to pollution.
More cancer specialists and oncologists see environmental link
A new report by Duke University researchers highlights the dramatic shift since then among cancer specialists and practicing oncologists. In a paper being published in the September issue of the Journal of Oncology Practice, the Duke team reports on a survey of young oncologists it conducted at the 2010 Australia and Asia Pacific Clinical Oncology Research and Development Workshop.
The Duke researchers found that these specialists from low- to middle-income countries consider pollution and other environmental factors one of the three top reasons for the growing burden of cancer in their countries. Close to a third (32 percent) called environmental factors important contributors, contradicting the traditional reserve that cancer researchers and physicians felt about attributing cancer to environmental causes.
Even though air, water and soil pollution became a major concern during the 20th century, only recently has compelling evidence mounted that carcinogenic chemicals are taking a significant toll on human health. Case studies of water and soil contamination are finding cancer clusters and population-wide epidemiological trends that link pollution to increases in the overall cancer burden, especially in impoverished regions where exposures are often higher than in wealthier nations."
It is likely that the cancer and practicing oncologist world, like the autism world, will have their own Oracles who will be unable to thaw out their rigid mind sets and consider the interaction of genetics and environment as a more informed model for conducting research and understanding human health issues. Still it is encouraging to see that the paradigm shift taking place in the world of autism research, a shift which replaces the purely genetic model with the gene environment model may be reinforced by a similar shift taking place in other areas of human health.