LONDON -- A medical bond forged on the sands of North Africa during World War II was strengthened this week when doctors from the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore and Guy's Hospital in London engaged in a scientific symposium on the promise and reality of molecular medicine.
The 50-year partnership was created when doctors from the two hospitals served together in Allied medical units. Returning home, they instituted an exchange program in 1946 to maintain friendships and share ideas.
The program, which enables doctors and medical students to cross the Atlantic to study and work together, has yielded impressive results. Hopkins surgeon Alfred Blalock helped introduce heart surgery to war-ravaged England in 1946. Later, immunologists from Hopkins and Guy's collaborated on an insect allergy project.
Nursing leaders from the hospitals were invited to this year's celebration for the first time. The program includes St. Thomas's Hospital in London.
Professor Richard Ross, former dean of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said the program "has broadened the education of young people and exposed doctors to ideas from another country."
Doctors from both countries agreed that the free-market health-care system in the United States and the socialized system of Britain share financial problems.
"As far as I'm concerned, you can have our system," says retired British physician Dr. George Scott. "But the problems we're facing are identical -- medicine is being taken over by the marketing and economics people."
The three-day symposium that concluded yesterday wasn't just an exercise in nostalgia, or a forum for the doctors to air complaints about medical systems under strain. The doctors spent considerable time discussing the future of molecular medicine, which refers to the application of genetic engineering and other uses of molecular biology to diagnose and treat disease. Molecular biology is the study of life at its most basic levels, including DNA, genes and the proteins they make.
The speakers focused on how studying molecules gives scientists a better understanding of disease, enabling them to develop new drugs and gene therapy techniques. But many of those at the symposium cautioned that the benefits of molecular medicine are being oversold.
Pub Date: 6/22/96