Handbook of Systems and Complexity in Health

pp 193-208


Bio-Complexity: Challenging Reductionism

  • Henry H. Q. HengAffiliated withCenter for Molecular Medicine and Genetics, Wayne State University School of MedicineKarmanos Cancer Institute, Wayne State University School of MedicineDepartment of Pathology, Wayne State University School of Medicine Email author 

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Based on the popular reductionist tradition, the advancement of molecular medicine has generated a great deal of promise. In reality, however, much of the promise will not be realized due to high levels of system complexity. The conventional wisdom is that, if we try harder, and dissect the system further by pushing new technologies, we should be able to solve most challenging heath issues, as we have overcome so much in the past. Is this belief solid and realistic? In this chapter, by introducing some typical and yet surprising cases of current medical complexity, I briefly describe key features of bio-complexity and its impact on bio-medical issues. Specifically, I will discuss the relationship between parts and the whole, the issue of system heterogeneity and stochasticity, and the importance of treating many health issues with regard to the evolutionary concept. Following the analyses of some successful and unsuccessful approaches, the key appears to be how the system status can be improved without triggering system chaos, as all medical intervention has the potential to generate system stress. Finally I call upon the need to develop more comprehensive and holistic strategies for the future of medicine, which will require a more balanced medical intervention approach.