Ever been to your local DMV? Maybe you needed to register a car, or get or replace your driver’s license. As a dedicated old car guy, and putting it nicely, I have not found the DMV to be a good model of our government’s ability to run smoothly, work efficiently or adapt quickly. However, don’t be too terribly dismayed, as elsewhere the Feds are working smartly and swiftly.
Show Me the Money
The NIH just announced that they are prepared to offer millions to fund research that examines how being infertile early on in life might be linked to overall health and disease later in life. That’s right, they want us to find early “biomarkers” of later health in men. Remember, men don’t have monthly periods like women to gauge their health, so this research is invaluable in helping us find the male equivalent of the menstrual cycle.
What’s impressive is how quickly this “biomarker of health” concept went from theory to money. Less than a decade ago, we and others started publishing research suggesting that infertile men have higher rates of certain cancers later in life than do fertile men. This was followed by studies showing that young, infertile men carry more diseases than do their fertile counterparts, and that infertile men may in fact have shorter life expectancies than their buddies who are dads. And so the idea was born that infertility might be more than just a “benign” problem occurring in the unfortunate few, but rather an early indicator of larger, general health problems later on, similar to what was found with erectile dysfunction and heart disease. According to the man who spearheaded the funding initiative, Dr. Stuart Moss, head of Male Reproductive Health at the NIH: “The data strongly suggest that fertility status can be a window into overall health.” Hallejuia!
Unlock the Safe
What I believe really busted things loose was a particular think tank session held by the NIH and CDC a year ago in which several dozen scientists and clinicians were invited to help figure out what we really know about the potential of fertility to be a marker of overall health. Honestly, it was a bucket-list moment for me to attend the meeting and hear about so many studies, in both men and women, that have confirmed our earlier findings. When does theory become fact? When everyone pokes at it and it stands strong.
I am so proud of the Feds’ taking the lead on this men’s health initiative; it has made it so much easier to pay taxes, due oh so soon. Even better, this investment in men’s health will pay off in spades, as we develop ways to predict and prevent disease in the half of our species who, for better part of their lives, feel nothing if not immortal.