Using History to Heal
- Appareil respiratoire pour mineurs. Crédits : Pierre-Henry Muller
What if we could improve diagnosis and treatment of a disease by revisiting how our understanding of it—or lack of—evolved over time? This strategy is at the heart of the SILICOSIS project, which by combining medicine and history has already improved the monitoring of patients exposed to specific types of dust particles.
“We saved our first patient!” enthuses historian Paul-André Rosental of the Centre d’Études Européennes de Sciences Po.1 His project SILICOSIS (link is external), launched three years ago, is unusual but promising: it consists in reconstructing the history of diseases in order to diagnose them more easily. The ultimate goal is to use social sciences to help healing. The first success story dates back to 2013, when a man of 78 was admitted to the Avicenne hospital in Bobigny (near Paris) in an emergency, with acute respiratory distress syndrome, a worrying heart condition and an abnormal accumulation of liquid around the lungs and heart. Antibiotics did not help. Dr. Marianne Kambouchner, an anatomic pathologist, was then called upon to analyze biopsies from the patient. As a medical partner in the SILICOSIS project, she was aware of how poorly dust toxicity had been taken into account since the 1930s. So she looked at the case file from another angle...