Many diseases, mostly the infectious diseases, have played significant roles in changing the course of human history. The transmission of infectious diseases, both past and present, has been dependent upon our interrelationships with the natural environment, the animals we live amongst, and especially each other. In ancient times, before we recognized the importance of sanitation and before the advent of antibiotics, diseases such as the plague and malaria spread throughout countries and across continents unchecked. In recent times, polio and HIV AIDS have impacted the state of public health, and have changed the direction and conventions of medical research.    Millions of people have suffered and died due to the lack of knowledge about what caused these diseases, the inability to diagnose them effectively, and ultimately the ability to treat them appropriately. In the examples provided, each of these new diseases has required a paradigm shift in both the understanding of medicine and treatment strategies and modalities. 
There is also a deep-rooted “social construction” in the understanding of diseases and what they represent to society.    Some diseases are charged with cultural interpretation (fear, suspicion, revulsion, ignorance)—which is why an infection such as Ebola is regarded with a different attitude collectively than say, Alzheimer’s, even though Alzheimer’s is more prevalent, increasing at a faster rate, and far more costly to society than Ebola.  Attitudes about diseases therefore, are not necessarily acquired from the nature of the disease and perceptions play a part in how society responds to each.
The recent 2013-14 Ebola epidemic in Africa created a collective social reaction, probably not in line with its actual risk. In responding to the perceived threat, many departures from strict ethical conventions in medical practice were seen. As outbreaks of Ebola emerged within small regions in Africa in late 2013 and the number of cases quickly grew, it was reported that healthcare workers could do little more in the treatment of patients than provide a palliative approach, while they tried to stay out of the way of the disease’s deadly virulence. In the news media we heard of entire West African village populations that were wiped out. There were no medications already on the shelf that could possibly have stopped the disease in humans, and seemingly, its spread to other countries. The outlook in early 2014 was dismal because it normally takes years to develop and bring a drug or vaccine through all phases of clinical research leading to successful treatments.  Some degree of panic set in as travellers from Africa, after potentially exposing hundreds of people to the infection, fell ill and died on European and US soil. The frenzied media response, often the lead item on newscasts throughout 2014, created over-reactions that were probably out-of-proportion to the threat.
The emphasis on the meaning of the pandemic phenomenon across continents prevailed. Subsequent actions by the medical community did not necessarily correspond to the reality, but were derived through interaction and interpretation in a social context, exacerbated by media reports. Everyone felt that they had to do something. The perception of an international health crisis sparked an unexpected and reactive response from the US FDA, the oversight body for all medical research in the US. Safety concerns aside, untested and unproven drug therapies were purposely given to African, American, and European patients who were on the verge of death. The FDA, the medical profession, clinical researchers, and the drug companies, in harmony, were willing to do whatever it took to save lives and to stop the spread of the disease in spite of strict protocols and regulations for drug development and trials. Although there are no approved treatments yet, this team effort has produced several new hopeful and effective medications for this deadly infectious disease within a matter of months, not the years it normally takes. 
Additional innovations that were adopted during the crisis were the willingness to use social media, which spread the word as to where pockets of disease were breaking out. Other researchers who were attempting to put the pieces of a larger puzzle together, extracted keywords from Internet searches in order to make sense of the data and develop strategies. An overall increase in the pace of communication and the efficient use of web connectivity resulted in a synchronicity among research groups around the world until success was achieved. It’s unclear what effect this willingness by thousands of researchers to breach the established precedents of research convention will have on the future of medicine, but many felt truly inspired by the response of the global community, with the ultimate and noble goal of saving lives. 
Mitigating factors are that the Ebola-affected countries in West Africa have some of the worst water, sanitation and hygiene standards in the world. This had fatal results and these social conditions limited the prevention and control of infection resulting in greater impact and reach of the Ebola crisis. NGO projects aimed at raising awareness of hygiene practices, changing behaviors, and reaching millions with clean water will ultimately defeat Ebola. 
Despite the continual drug company hype of new drug treatments, there are a group of diseases that have proven to be very difficult to treat effectively. These are the diseases of the brain, more often called neurodegenerative diseases. These include MS, Parkinson’s, ALS, Huntington’s and Alzheimer’s among others. These diseases are acquired by more people on a daily basis world-wide than ever fell ill with Ebola in total.     Additionally, progress on new treatments for these neurodegenerative diseases has generally not been as successful as the new treatments for many types of cancers, which were just as confounding to science just a few decades ago. In fact, with the marginal drugs that have been licensed for MS in the past 3 years, we seem to have reached the full potential for medications alone to treat chronic neurodegenerative diseases.
Many of us will be affected one way or another by a neurodegenerative disease at some point, and these diseases cannot be influenced by simply improving lifestyle choices. The chances are that if we don’t acquire the illness, we will probably be responsible for taking care of someone we love who has. Since current medications have minimal effect on these diseases in the long-term,   shouldn’t we be looking for effective therapies with the same sense of urgency and concentration of effort as we spent on Ebola? Given the growing frequency of neurodegenerative diseases across all segments of the global population, what would make the medical establishment snap to attention in the same way?
At this time, new drug development is slow, and the therapeutic targets for diseases such as MS and Parkinson’s are symptoms, not causes. Despite a shocking lack of appropriate response, the status quo in research is being maintained. Clearly the perception of a crisis in the increase of nearly all neurodegenerative diseases and a need to act is not the same as it is for an infectious disease like Ebola. In the meantime, the drug companies are brazenly fighting to extend their patents on old and ineffective medications for these diseases instead of researching new ones.    Where they have licensed new medications in the treatment of MS for example, they are simply reformulating old drugs that were once used to treat psoriasis or other conditions.  Profitable bottom lines, not cures are the major consideration in the reasons drug companies do anything.   
As with polio, HIV AIDS, and now Ebola, we are again at an important crossroads of medical research. With growing prevalence and frequency, millions of people are suffering and dying due to the lack of knowledge and even disagreement about what causes many of these neurodegenerative diseases, and ultimately our ability to treat them appropriately. Thanks to the collaborative science called the ‘Human Genome Project’ (HGP), scientists around the world are finally starting to grasp the overwhelming complexity of diseases that afflict the brain. This important research has determined that any advances in treating these diseases will likely require transformation at the cellular level and medications may be of little use. Regenerative medicine would be covered in this therapeutic domain and expansion of the research to become joint pursuit between the chemical sciences and the life sciences is appropriate, particularly as related to global health challenges as mystifying as these diseases are.
In the case of Ebola research, all strategies were on the table. If regenerative medicine is seen to be achieving beneficial effects in small but important trials,  this is more than the drug approach has ever been shown to produce, and this research certainly needs to be furthered. Status quo is not good enough. We must continue to keep an open mind and scan the research for the most effective treatments. If the drug companies won’t sponsor the investigation and replication of effective research because there’s no money in cures, we must advocate for, and nurture those smaller, more innovative companies that are leading the way.  Once this new research is published and demonstrated to be beneficial, even nominally, public funds to support more academic review and clinical trials must be budgeted, uninfluenced by big corporate interests, whose obscene profits from the current medications stand directly in the way of potential cures. Expensive, life-long drug regimens that are targeted at mere symptomatic relief produce enormous profits for drug companies but are simply not adequate for an exponentially growing number of patients.    
Now that Ebola is no longer seen as an immediate world-wide threat, let’s not forget the lessons learned. In the face of a potential global killer, the research community responded with inspired creativity and enterprise to develop a therapy within months. During the discovery phase, many different therapeutic approaches were proposed and no particular treatment strategy was discouraged. New conventions were effectively established for collaborative research, and a better way forward was validated. As a result, success was potentially achieved in the treatment of Ebola and many fewer people died, and will die in the future.
We have proven that if we were to adopt the same authentic covenants in the search for cures for MS, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and other chronic degenerative diseases with a sense of collective urgency, we would be practicing new and more effective therapies within a few years. With the willingness of the FDA and clinicians around the world to support important medical research that would have formerly been seen as ‘unethical’, the Genie is out of the bottle — and we can’t afford to allow corporate interests, that is the drug companies, to put it back in. With the medical research community willing to work collaboratively and strategically to solve the spread and growth of perilous diseases, the old research and discovery paradigm is no longer valid. It’s time to get active to advocate and agitate for the medical community to implement the same investigational strategies in finding cures for pernicious neurodegenerative diseases as we just did so enthusiastically — and so effectively — for Ebola.