Indicators of regime shifts – potential uses in medicine

I attended Steve Carpenter’s lecture on Indicators of regime shifts, and was intrigued by the possibility of using those same indicators in medicine. The lecture went to show that there are some indicators which can be used to predict a shift from one stable state (regime) to another. Prof. Carpenter commented on how a change in regimes can be predicted by observing how the indicator measurements change. For example, in the case of shallow waters regime shifts from the clear water state to the turbid state, there is an increase in variance just before the change, and at the critical point the variance would “explode” (calculated mathematically it would approach infinity). Spectra analysis would show the same by shifting to red noise.

The conclusion was that using these indicators for predicting regime shifts, we might stop the process of shifting to an unwanted regime before the point of no return. One of the questions after the lecture was: Can we use these indicators the other way around, predicting the change from an unwanted stable state to a new stable state that we would want? And that’s what got me thinking on some potential uses in medicine.

For example, could we be able to predict if a patient might respond to defibrilation or not? The undesired state in this case would be asystolia  (flat line, when there are no heart contractions) and the other state would obviously be rhythmic cardiac contractions. I think it would be great to be able to tell if the patient is responding or not, because in such cases defibrilation is used more than once (sometimes 3 or more times), while cardiac massage is performed and drugs are injected in an effort to jump-start the heart. If at least in some cases we will be able to see no increase in variance, this might bring the time of attempted ressuscitation down.
Another example I could think of is comatose patients. If we might be able to predict (using increase in variance), that the patient is close to coming out of the coma, it will definitely influence the decisions being taken (such as disconnecting the life-support equipment or allow more time to recovery).

Prof. Carpenter’s answer to this was: “The medical literature that I have read does not say much about potential applications. However I would think that the scientists doing all this sophisticated signal processing are thinking about how the patterns might be used to help people in cardiac arrest
or people at risk of a seizure.”

So things are moving in this direction too, after all. Well, than, this only goes to prove how the different fields come together in terms of using research in a field as a starting point for reasearch in a completely different field.

One Response to “Indicators of regime shifts – potential uses in medicine”

  1. patagonia says:

    I find it interesting the way you have applied predicting regime shifts of the environment to those in medicine. I think the principle may be the same but the framework of how we look at these two different things (environment and medicine) are very different. As we have discussed in depth, we lack an environmental framework or paradigm from which to base our actions, adaptations, conservation strategies, ethics, etc. that inevitably effect the environment and all living things supported by it. In contrast, there is a long history of medical ethic, law, codes of conduct and a general framework (Judeo-Christian) which governs medical research and practice. This is a generalization, but many people do not view environmental regime shifts or collapse with the same personal attachment, understanding or fear with which they consider human medical regime shifts, collapse (i.e.e illness and death). It is similar to the way we discussed applying ethics to nature being opposed by our inherently anthropogenic outlook on the world and all things is it; most humans would value a human life over a plant, an ocean, an ecosystem function. So, I believe it all comes down to the need for an environmental world view; a guiding paradigm that will guide humans in their ethics, understanding, coexistence and dependence with the environment.