Are there diseases that will never be cured?

A co-worker told me she had a conversation with a guy who runs a charity for kids with alopecia and he said to her that there will never be a cure for it. Not, “It’s currently incurable,” but that there is zero chance of a cure.

I’m aware that it’s believed that cancer, etc. will never have a cure because sick people = money, but are there any other diseases that will never actually be cured?

Cancer is the big one, and not for conspiracy reasons. The simple fact of the matter is that cancer is not an illness, it’s a class of illnesses characterized by unbounded cell replication. The actual contributing factor to said replication is incredibly varied, and a treatment that works for one type won’t work for another. Since there are many (probably hundreds – though that’s a WAG) different causes for “cancer” there will never be a “cure for cancer” because it’s like saying you’ll get a unified “cure for death”.

This does not, of course, mean that specific cancers can’t be cured – or even that eventually all cancers won’t be cured using different methods.

Let’s just stop right there. It’s believed by whom?

Wikipedia lists over 20 causes of alopecia (including lupus, regardless of what House may think), so maybe that’s why the co-worker’s contact said it would never be cured - like cancer, it’s not a single “thing.” I’m not sure why each of those 20+ things can’t be cured though.

But as Mahaloth pointed out, is it even generally acknowledged by researchers that anything (including cancer) will never be cured? Certainly Jragon’s point about cancer having potentially hundreds of causes makes it a good candidate, but even something with hundreds of causes can be tackled one by one. “Never” is a long time.

“Never” is a very, very, very long time. A billion years from now it’s very unlikely that humans will even exist, much less our diseases. And alopecia? Hair loss? I’d expect in my lifetime that to be fixable by if nothing else simply removing the affected skin and replacing it with suitably altered skin (and that’s probably more extreme than will be necessary).


Blogs touting that belief came up when I Googled this question. Some of my more…shall we say “talkative” cousins believe the same.

My point isn’t that it’s impossible to find a cure for all cancers, my point is that finding hundreds of cures for hundreds of different cancers is not the same as finding a “cure for cancer” because such a thing will never exist since they’re different diseases. I’ll admit it’s kind of hair-splitting though.

OK, leaving aside the cancer thing, which I also find offensively ignorant, let’s talk about the actual question. I’m a biology PhD student, by the way, just so you know where I’m coming from here. I can’t imagine any way in which we could establish that any disease is definitely incurable. With any disease, we try to learn what the underlying cause(s) is (are). Once that’s established, it’s usually pretty obvious what some potential cures would be. In the vast majority of cases, most of those cures are far beyond our technical ability, but we can at least speculate and say “if we could just do this, that would solve the problem”.

For instance, we know that cystic fibrosis is caused by mutations in the CFTR gene, which codes for a channel protein in the lung epithelial cells. This causes the cilia to be nonfunctional, which in turn causes a buildup of mucus on the lung surfaces. So we can say, “if we could just get a functional CFTR protein expressed in these cells, the patients would be fine”. We can’t do that, yet, but we can easily say how to cure it.

I can’t imagine any disease - I’m certainly not aware of any - where we understand what the cause is, yet are left with “nope. There’s no imaginable way to ever fix that. You’re screwed.”

We don’t know what medical technology - or any technology, really - will be able to do in the future. Twenty years ago, lots of techniques that we use routinely today for research were unimaginable. So to say that we will never be able to do something is just silly.

Possibillity or impossibility of a cure is difficult to comment on. As noted, “forever” is an awful long time, and so it seems rather bold to say “X disease will never be cured.”

While it is laughable to claim that all cancers will never be cured because sick people = money (indeed, many individuals are cured of their cancer every day, from procedures as simple as excision to exotic treatments that target the specific genetic profile of a patient’s tumor), it is correct in many cases to say that the profit motive is the thing that drives the search for a cure. Orphan diseases are conditions that are very rare - so rare that any cure is not likely to earn a lot of money for its creator, and so there is relatively little research into cures, despite the fact that some of these diseases are really horrible. Billions of dollars are poured into developing cures for common maladies like breast cancer or heart disease; considerably less money is given over to fighting, for example, progeria or fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva. Indeed, in the case of progeria the research that has taken place so far appears to have been driven by the desire to understand the aging process in normal elderly people; if a cure for progeria is found, it will probably be a spin-off of this effort rather than the main goal.

Curing Ignorance is taking longer than we thought! :smiley:

So it’s not like there are diseases out there where the researcher looked under the microscope, said, “Nope,” and that was it. That’s what I was aiming for. Thank you!

Our track record for eradicating diseaseis not that great - only one human disease (smallpox in 1979) and one animal disease (rinderpest in 2010) have been declared wiped out. It’s been over 30 years since we cured anything for humans. With the pace of development of medications and technology, perhaps we could be doing better? No one knows what the future of medicine and technology holds, so maybe there will be more cures in our lifetimes. I have to say, I do suspect the profit motive could be a hinderance to cures - for example, drug companies are thought to be more interested in treatments than cures.

This brings me to a question - is eradicating a communicable disease the same as a cure? Is cancer on the same plane as, say, the flu? What, exactly, is a cure? I mean, is eradicating a disease found in nature the same as developing a drug that eradicates a disease in a person who happens to have it? Would mandatory vaccination programs (e.g. smallpox) “cure” mankind of the flu?

No expert here, but I would define a cure as any intervention that terminates the natural course of an already-in-progress instance of a disease. By that definition, a cure cannot be applied unless an organism already exhibits the disease. Eradication, OTOH, involves preventing new instances of a disease before they even start.

Example: we are working to eradicate polio by administering the vaccine to as many people as possible, which helps prevent new instances of the disease. However, there is no known cure for polio once a person is infected with it.

As long as entropy exists, cancer will exist. Most scientists believe there’s no way to stop entropy.

Assuming our civilization continues to exist, and advance technologically, nothing will be incurable. I see no reason why we wouldn’t someday be able to create a new fully-human biological flawless body every year and have our brains transplanted into into it. Sure, that won’t be for a long long long long time, but it’s not never.

Of course, then there’s the question about brain diseases. Is there anything a population of nanobots flowing through the brain blood supply couldn’t clean up, theoretically? That goes for body diseases too.

You can stop and even reverse entropy in one place, as long as it increases elsewhere. We wouldn’t have computers if that were not so.

Or go farther and just copy the data in your brain to an android body. Or have nanobots replace your organic brain on-site with synthetic components.

Prions (“Mad Cow”, for one) might be worth a mention here. They behave differently than the bacteria/viruses/fungi we all know and love, and all cases so far are untreatable and terminal.

I’m not sure what entropy has to do with cancer. If anything, isn’t cancer (uncontrolled cell growth) sort of the opposite of entropy? The problem is cells that *don’t *stop growing and dividing…