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Institute of Advanced Study

Evolutionary Medicine

Professor Gillian Bentley (Anthropology)

Professor Charlotte Roberts (Archaeology)


Evolutionary Medicine emerged in 1990 as a cross-disciplinary field applying evolutionary theory as a basic principle to medicine.  For example, in emergency medicine, doctors used regularly to give blood infusions and oxygen perfusions to trauma patients in an effort to avoid organ failure.  However, it is now recognised that organ failure is an adaptive mechanism to shut down body function while it undergoes critical recovery.  Although criticised for lacking practical applications, the field has mushroomed with several international meetings under its rubric (including a satellite at the 2009 World Health Summit in Berlin), plus a number of edited tomes and a textbook. 

Despite this visibility, no university has yet developed a programme in Evolutionary Medicine although many host individual classes.  It is timely to do this at Durham in order to place ourselves at centre stage as the field moves forward.  We received support from IAS in 2006 to host an exploratory, regional meeting with researchers from the Universities of Newcastle and York who are interested in research and teaching collaborations.  We also received Seedcorn funding in 2010 for an internal strategy meeting to discuss Evolutionary Medicine proposals for Durham, facilitated by an external expert (Prof Randy Nesse - one of the founders of Evolutionary Medicine) and attended by departmental and administrative representatives.  We are currently developing a Centre proposal, and have completed initial plans for an MSc in Evolutionary Medicine.