Cancer, the third research focus at our institute, does not exist outside of the climate crisis’ sphere of influence either. Apart from likely increasing risk factors (air pollution, ultraviolet radiation exposures, food production and nutrition, environmental toxicants and others), the big challenge lies in the additional strain climate change will put onto our health care systems, threatening our resources for diagnosis, treatment and care of cancer patients.
Many other important health issues not covered by research at the Randall (such as mental health) are severely aggravated by the climate crisis and our response (or lack thereof) to it. To see the many decades of hard work we are spending in the collective effort to improve human health being undermined by the climate crisis is extremely frustrating for us biomedical scientists.
The good news is: many solutions for limiting greenhouse gas emissions (public transport, electric vehicles, cycling, plant-based diets) have immediate benefits for health and the environment, while at the same time reducing exposure to risks and stressors. For example: transforming the transport infrastructure into a system based mainly on public transport and renewable energy, particularly in urban areas, not only reduces CO2 emissions, but also noise and air pollution, thereby reducing the risk for cardiovascular disease and asthma attacks as well as the symptomatic burden for those already affected.
Limiting global temperature increase to 1.5°C offers further benefits to biomedical research for another reason: at 1.5°C, there is still a chance for 10-30% of coral reefs to survive and eventually adapt. These complex ecosystems are not only incredibly beautiful, their biodiversity is host to a vast library of biochemical substances of great therapeutic potential. Multiple important anti-cancer drugs such as cytarabin and eribulin have been derived from molecules first identified in coral reef organisms and yet we are still at the very beginning of exploring the potential of these ecosystems for biomedical research.
Tackling the climate crisis and biodiversity loss not only will prevent enormous health risks, but even improve the livelihoods and health of billions of people worldwide and safeguard the progress of biomedical science.
In part 3 of our series, we will highlight some of the actions we can take on the societal, institutional and individual level to address the climate crisis.
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