Biomedical Science

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Biomedical Science

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During most of its history, medicine was practiced as an art, rather than on terms now described as science. During the last two centuries, the practice of medicine has become more closely connected to principles drawn from the scientific method, especially with regard to understanding the molecular underpinnings of disease. Since the birth of a research tradition in the modern era, advances in anatomy, physiology, genetics, immunology, and other of scientific sub-disciplines increasingly define and extend the reach of modern medicine.

Biomedical science serves medical science by allowing physicians to understand the critical processes associated with infectious diseases caused by bacteria, viruses, protozoans, and other microorganisms; the influence of body physiology and biochemistry on the maintenance of health; and the tolerance or immune-related rejection of transplanted tissues. It also offers a foundation to test a person's blood, urine, or tissue for the presence of disease and to develop new techniques to maintain health.

The legacy of biomedical science is long. Dutch scientist Antonio van Leeuwenhoek (1632–1723) first recognized the existence of cells in the fluids and tissues of the human body. Near the dawn of the nineteenth century, those observations allowed Robert Koch (1843–1910) to demonstrate the bacterial nature of diseases like anthrax, tuberculosis, and cholera. Physicians now understand that many types of bacteria cause disease, ranging from the relatively minor discomfort of gastrointestinal upset to the life-threatening release of toxins into the bloodstream, as in blood poisoning, or septicemia.

Viral diseases, including influenza, avian flu, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV/AIDS), Ebola viral hemorrhagic fever, rabies, and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), also carry significant medical, social, political, and economic impacts. They hold the potential to reshape how modern society adapts to a shrinking global village.

Biomedical science is concerned with detecting diseases by a number of methods. In many diseases, like cancer, early detection can save a person's life. In this regard, the use of noninvasive imaging techniques such as positron emission spectroscopy (PET), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and computed tomography (CT) have allowed diagnosis without the need for exploratory surgery.

In 2003, scientists working on the Human Genome Project finished mapping the entire human sequence of genes. This holds great potential to revolutionize the prevention and treatment of illnesses by the use of gene therapy, in which a healthy gene can replace a damaged one in a sick person. A related type of therapy, stem cell therapy, may also hold great potential in the treatment of disease. Fetal stem cells function as a precursor to a variety of tissues in a developing human. Bone marrow and umbilical cord blood contain adult stem cells.

Many social controversies revolve around biomedical science. Stem cell research, for example, is both politically and socially sensitive in many countries, especially in the United States. How to treat millions of people in Africa who are infected with HIV/AIDS, where whole communities are affected and poverty is widespread, is another contentious issue. How humans around the globe deal with these issues will impact the world over the next century.