Throughout history, humans have continuously made efforts to heal and eradicate diseases. In early, less modern times, this process was considered both difficult and strenuous, but with the advancement of technology and bioengineering, humans are developing faster, more effective measures for treating and eradicating diseases. To learn more, checkout this infographic sponsored by the University of California, Riverside’s Online Engineering Program.


History of Efforts to Eliminate Diseases

Over the centuries, humans attempted to eliminate diseases from everyday life. While some did succeed, it would take years before actual cures were developed to tackle the majority of medical illnesses and ailments. This includes:

  • Smallpox

Smallpox was first discovered in 1,000 B.C. However, further research showed that smallpox actually existed for over 3,000 years. In 1796, Edward Jenner of England developed a successful smallpox vaccine. It would, however, take several more decades before the vaccine would be utilized on a global scale. In fact, from 1900 to 1904, there were 1,528 deaths each year as a result of smallpox. The disease also spread like wildfire, resulting in over 500 million deaths worldwide — and for the entire 20th century.

1949 saw the last case of severe smallpox take place in the U.S. However, a milder case of smallpox — known as variola minor — was also reported in the country that same year. In 1966, the World Health Organization (WHO) launched a global campaign to eradicate smallpox. It would take until 1980 for this disease to be completely eliminated on a global scale.

  • Polio

It is said that polio first came into the spotlight back in 1,000 B.C. In fact, an Egyptian image showed a priest with a withered leg. Many, however, believed that polio actually existed for over 3,000 years. By 1796, medical studies showed that polio was a crippling and potentially fatal disease. While no formal cure existed at the time, there were safe and effective vaccines that were developed to combat the disease. From 1951 — 1954, polio resulted in 1,879 deaths per year in the U.S. An additional 16,316 cases were reported each year as well.

The first official polio vaccine was licensed in the United States by 1955. Due to the success of the vaccine, polio cases declined to less than a thousand cases in 1958. By 1962, there was less than a 100 cases across the nation. 1979 saw polio completed eradicated in the U.S., while a 99% decrease in global cases was reported in 2016. By 2018, the WHO promises to eliminate all cases of polio across the world.

  • Measles

In the 9th century, a Persian doctor reported one of the first written accounts of the measles disease. In 1912, measles becomes a nationally known disease in the U.S. — resulting in all cases having to be reported to local hospitals, physicians, and medical associations. From 1958 — 1962, there are 503,282 reported cases of measles in the U.S. 432 measles related deaths per year are also reported during that period. By 1963, the first measles vaccine is licensed in the country. Measles incidents and deaths began to decline and see a long downward turn.

However, a small outbreak of measles interrupts this downward trend from 1970 – 1972 — resulting in the WHO promising a global eradication of measles. Similar outbreaks from 1989 -1991 continue to thwart WHO and other agency efforts in permanently eliminating this disease. Success is reached on a global level from 2000 -2014 with a 79% drop in measles related deaths. The World Health Organization also promises global eradication of measles by 2020.

Disease Eradication Essentials

With burgeoning and existing bioengineering technologies, disease control experts and specialists continue to study and eradicate diseases of all kinds. However, there are certain conditions that must be present in order to feasibly and effectively eradicate diseases. These include:

  • Epidemiologic Vulnerability

The inability to spread easily, while early diagnosis and analysis is essential. There should also be a short duration of relapse potential, and a natural cyclical decline in prevalence.

  • Non-scientific Conditions to be considered

The expected costs and resources of disease eradication must be considered. The disease — no matter how big or small – must be perceived as a burden and threat to mankind. The ultimate goal should also be to eliminate the disease in question, not just control or contain it. There should also be a coordinated effort by all organizations involved, resulting in a proactive and comprehensive solution to disease elimination.

  • Availability of Intervention Measures

Intervention measures must be cost-efficient, safe, easily accessible, and designed to secure timely and lasting results. Vaccines, concoctions, and antidotes must be carefully studied, verified, validated, and ready for use at all times.

  • Bioengineering Disease Elimination

Currently, human bioengineering is mainly carried out via Pre-implantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD). The process is based on eliminating diseases that are genetically inherited — or contracted via viruses and sicknesses. As part of the disease elimination process, single cells are removed from embryos using the same process as Vitro Fertilization (IVF). The cells are then studied and identified as carrying genetic disorders. The same process is also used for gender selection or tissue matching.

  • Human Germ Line Engineering — The Future of Disease Elimination

Human Germ Line Engineering (HGE) is designed to affect the genes carried in the ova and sperm, which can potentially eliminate inheritable diseases. Bioengineering has the potential to eliminate a wide array of diseases, including genetic blindness, hemophilia, HIV, sickle-cell anemia, heart disease, and many others.

Currently, bioengineering is being used to combat malaria, as well as prevent Zika, Yellow Fever, Chikungunya and other mosquito related diseases. While more studies and resources are being poured into securing the benefits of bioengineering for disease elimination, reports are showing dramatic positive effects across the board.

Article by University of California Riverside