Pestilence can provide the basis for mesmerizing fiction and mortifying nonfiction. Records written on stone and in bone tell of epidemics of syphilis, smallpox, measles, and plague that have felled pharaohs, toppled empires, and decimated armies—or the peoples they conquered. Standing ready in every instance have been the medical practitioners of the time, bringing their charms, spells, masks, cups, and leeches to the fight.
Today, our approaches to identifying and controlling the causes of infectious diseases are decidedly less theatric, but they are no less intent. In this issue of Harvard Medicine, we look at some of the ways researchers and physicians are collaborating to cast a surveillance net wide enough to capture the movements of organisms that surface across an ocean or across the street. We also explore the meticulous work of researchers who throughout the decades have sought out molecular-level weaknesses of the microorganisms that cause some of the globe’s most devastating diseases: AIDS, malaria, cholera, and tuberculosis. By contrast, we examine the legions of “good” bugs that share space with us, those microorganisms that draw out nutrients from what we eat, guide our immune responses, and generally regulate the metabolic processes that keep us healthy and functioning.
We not only investigate the forces that can perturb or protect our personal health, in this issue we also take a reflective look at the events of one tragic day in April. Our students’ and alumni’s recollections of the bombings in Boston serve to remind us of our vulnerability, and also of our strength. In the aftermath, the work of those at Boston Children’s Hospital, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Massachusetts Eye and Ear, Massachusetts General Hospital, McLean Hospital, and Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital gave new meaning to community. They brought heartfelt determination and superlative skills to what became Boston Strong.
We also would like to share with you another story of community, one involving this magazine. In June, we were thrilled to learn that Harvard Medicine earned the prestigious 2013 Robert Sibley Magazine of the Year award from CASE, the Council for Advancement and Support of Education. We hope that you, the community served by Harvard Medicine, will join us in taking a moment to celebrate this achievement.
Image: John Soares