Are you a big fan of “Game of Thrones” (GOT)? The final season of the hit HBO series is on its last episode and most faithful watchers are on the edge of their seats to see who will FINALLY be seated on the Iron Throne. Based on a series of fantasy novels called “A Song of Ice and Fire” by George R. R. Martin, the five novels were written between 1996 to 2011. Martin is currently writing the 6th novel for which followers are eagerly awaiting completion.
“Game of Thrones” features several families of nobility fighting for control of the mythical land of Westeros and to sit on the Iron Throne as ruler over all. The HBO adaptation of this book series is no doubt fantastic, but as with most TV adaptations, there are factors that stray away from the original. One interesting change die-hard fans may notice is the age differences of the characters in the show versus in the books. In “Game of Thrones” the novel, one of the main families called the Starks consisted of the youngest characters in the entire series. The middle child of the family, Bran Stark was only seven when he was pushed out of a window crippling him for life. He later spends the rest of this 8-year series in a wheelchair but still proves his skillfulness in other mystical ways – like being able to see far into the past without ever being there. The young but fierce Arya Stark was only nine when she was ready to fight in battle with a custom- made sword of Valyrian steel, and the oldest daughter, Sansa Stark was only 11 when her arranged marriage proposal was made to the dreadful Joffrey Lannister – the crown prince of Westeros. Even Daenerys Targaryen, the Mother of Dragons – three dragons to be exact, was only 13 when she was sold off by her brother to marry the powerful warlord Khal Drogo in exchange for his army’s help in the war to conquer Westeros.
According to an interview with The Telegraph UK, Martin’s goal with his books were “to create a more authentic medieval -style world.” Due to the explicit nature of events that happens to these characters, HBO aged them two to three years accordingly, but Martin was accurate in his novel with the younger ages of the children and the circumstances that could happen to them during the medieval time period (500 AD – 1500 AD).
During that particular era, children were raised at a much quicker pace than what we are used to today. At age seven, boys were sent to become pages (attendants) to upper class men or women. At 14, they would start to train to become a knight. As soon as they were able, girls were taught the skills of how to manage a household and were in an arranged marriage by the age of 12. During these times, the life expectancy rate was an extremely low 40- 50 years of age which explains why being placed into body armor or marriage before the age of 14 was the norm.
So why were people dying at a young age during medieval times? It wasn’t because of fire-breathing dragons, natural disasters or war – diseases were a main cause of death, particularly pneumonia, tuberculosis, and small pox. Children had the highest mortality rate during this era as they were more vulnerable to catch a disease or infection due to their weaker immune systems. This was also during a time when antibiotics or vaccines did not exist. Thousands of years later, thanks to developments made with animal research, we can treat and conquer a majority of these diseases and extend human longevity.
One of the more common ailments during medieval times was small pox, a contagious viral disease caused by the variola virus that leads to a fever and the development of pustules on one’s skin and in some cases form sores inside the mouth, throat and nose. Small pox is considered extremely dangerous because it is an airborne disease that can easily spread. Throughout the 18th century, small pox was the cause of death for over 400,000 people in Europe each year.
In 1796, scientist Edward Jenner noticed that milk maids seemed to be immune from catching small pox and discovered this was due to the young women first contracting cowpox through sores on diseased cows. Primarily found in bovines, cowpox is a viral skin infection that could be easily transferred to other animals and humans. It produces red blisters on the skin of the infected, but unlike small pox, is a much milder virus. Jenner took material from the sores of a local milk maid who had cowpox and injected the material into an arm of a young boy who had small pox and days later the boy began to heal.
Jenner was on to something began further research into this successful experiment; he started studying cows with cowpox and humans infected with small pox. Jenner discovered through the process of variolation (taking infected material from one individual and putting it into another), that he was able to inoculate cowpox into those infected with small pox and heal them from the deadly disease. Jenner shared his discovery of this small pox vaccine and it was able to prevent millions from possible death. In 1980, small pox was deemed eradicated by the World Health Organization (WHO).
In the fictional world of GOT, there was a variation of small pox called greyscale, a deadly disease caused by a thickening of the skin giving the appearance of scales which later spread and hardened vital organs. Though it may appear like a form of leprosy, greyscale was described as being related to small pox due to its ability to transmit through inhalation or even clothes or items that have been infected.
Another disease that was prominent during the medieval times was tuberculosis (TB), an infectious disease that primarily affects the lungs and is in the top 10 causes of death worldwide today. In 1921, French scientists Albert Calmette and Camille Guerin announced their discovery of the first tuberculosis vaccine called Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG). BCG was formed from live animal bacteria that was sub cultured (moved constantly from one growth container to another) to such a weakened point that the bacteria could form an immunity towards TB without causing any infections in humans. The two scientists spent over 15 years testing BCG on infected guinea pigs, cattle and monkeys and saw its success in preventing the progression of TB. Human trials for the vaccine then began in France, Germany and Canada and the treatment is still used today in the prevention of TB.
According to WHO, pneumonia is the “single largest infectious cause of death in children worldwide” – primarily in Africa and South Asia. In 2016, an estimated 880,000 children under the age of five were victims of the deadly disease. Still a life-threatening condition today, animal research has been key in the numerous strides made towards the attack against pneumonia.
In 2017, State University of New York (SUNY) bioengineering professor Blaire Pfeifer announced his team’s discovery of a potential new pneumonia vaccine called LEPS. Unlike the vaccines in the past, LEPS is less costly and more effective against the various strains of the bacteria that causes pneumonia (S. pneumoniae). There have been over 95 various strains of this bacteria discovered and current vaccines are effective on only 23 strains. Through his research with mice and rabbits, Pfeifer discovered LEPS caused a strong immune response against 72 strains of S. pneumoniae. Not only was LEPS able to attack more strains than current vaccines, it was also able to trigger the immune system to prevent any new bacteria from traveling to other parts of the body such as the ears or throat which could cause more health complications. Currently, Pfeifer and his team are preparing to test LEPS in human clinical trials within 2019-2020.
Partly due to the development of life-saving vaccines, today the life expectancy in America for women is 81 years and for men 77 years – globally, it is 74 for women and 70 for men, a significant change from the medieval times. Through the important role of animals in research, scientists can discover and study various treatments to help cure life threatening diseases that allow men, women, and children to live longer and healthier lives.
As for our favorite GOT characters, it is anyone’s guess who will survive to the end of this Sunday’s episode and eventually be seated on the Iron Throne! We will be sure to tune in and see you all in Westeros!
by Nelia Dashiell