BBC Radio 4’s Crossing Continents has an excellent programme on how an extended family in Colombia with an inherited form of dementia are providing clues that may help us understand Alzheimer’s disease.
The research is being led by a group from the University of Antioquia in Colombia’s second city, Medellín, and has caused waves of excitement among those hoping for a new treatment for the condition.
It’s generally a great programme but my attention was caught by the programme’s description which makes out that the ethical problems are related to possible exploitation of a poor family in the developing world – when economics is really not the issue at hand.
The families do not have a significant financial benefit from their involvement and the debate is more over whether cognitively impaired people can fully consent to their participation.
It also concerns whether families, affected by incurable conditions that appear in young and middle aged people, are motivated by desperation for a cure when they might not understand that this is years away.
This is exactly the same issue that would face any family, anywhere in the world, so I’m not sure why the issue of the family being in the ‘developing world’ is particularly relevant.
The programme also discusses the risk that American could exploit scientists in the developing world.
I’ve been to the neuroscience centre discussed in the programme and it would put many Western research institutes to shame – it’s a modern, multi-disciplinary, high-powered research institute doing cutting edge science.
Not everything outside of Europe and the USA needs to be seen through the lens of poverty and exploitation. Usually, the science speaks for itself.