Michael E. Hochberg

Pathogens and cancers are pervasive health risks in the human population. I argue that if we are to better understand disease and its treatment, then we need to take an ecological perspective of disease itself. I generalize and extend an emerging framework that views disease as an ecosystem and many of its components as interacting in a community. I develop the framework for biological etiological agents (BEAs) that multiply within humans-focusing on bacterial pathogens and cancers-but the framework could be extended to include other host and parasite species. I begin by describing why we need an ecosystem framework to understand disease, and the main components and interactions in bacterial and cancer disease ecosystems. Focus is then given to the BEA and how it may proceed through characteristic states, including emergence, growth, spread and regression. The framework is then applied to therapeutic interventions. Central to success is preventing BEA evasion, the best known being antibiotic resistance and chemotherapeutic resistance in cancers. With risks of evasion in mind, I propose six measures that either introduce new components into the disease ecosystem or manipulate existing ones. An ecosystem framework promises to enhance our understanding of disease, BEA and host (co) evolution, and how we can improve therapeutic outcomes.