Hyperreflexia, Memory, Neurological Disorders, Pain, Spasticity, Spinal Cord Injury, Writing

Top 5 Challenges in SCI Repair

Here are the top five challenges in the race for a cure for SCI:

  1. Post-injury survival – Keep nerve cells that survive the initial injury alive and healthy
  2. Regeneration and growth – Promote the re-growth of injured nerve cells and their fibers
  3. Axon pathfinding – Guide growing axons toward their normal targets (i.e., muscles or other neural tissues)
  4. Electrical conduction – Nerve cells must conduct electrical impulses with reliability and fidelity to carry information needed to execute complex tasks
  5. Synaptic connection –  Axons that reach their targets must connect and stabilize a line of communication

Progress: In my opinion, in more than 10 years in this field, I firmly believe that we’ve grown exponentially in terms of knowledge and application for milestones #1, 2,  3, and 4. And this is great news because this means that we are more than halfway toward fixing SCI. In fact, there are ongoing clinical trials in various parts of the globe investigating ways to increase the survival of nerve cells (a critical first step!), enhancing the growth of spared fibers, and guiding those axons toward their normal targets.

Next Steps: While less is known about how to promote re-connections between injured nerve cells and their targets (#5), we have a firm grasp on the molecular mechanisms involved in this challenge. We know that specific proteins interact in the growing nervous system (i.e., those that functioned when you were still in the womb, or just an infant) and that they turn-off, don’t work, or are non-existent in adulthood. So, in essence, we need to learn how to turn these switches back on, or replace them with functional ones. While no easy task, there are emerging tools to do this, including genetic therapies which has become a huge advancement and addition to our repair tool box.

What I expect: In the next few years, we will see some very big pushes on various research fronts in the SCI battle space. I think the biggest successes and those soonest to arrive will be in the form of new strategies designed to overcome many of the serious quality-of-life issues associated with SCI, including pain, reflex disorders, and poor autonomic function. Hang on; stay alert; stay hopeful!

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Aging, Compassion, Existence, Philosophy, Time, Wisdom, Writing

Time – I wish I had more!

I wish I had more time in the day. As I get older, I feel that I have less and less time to do the things I want to do. Is this happening to you?

A part of me thinks this is because I’m making choices to do things that take up much more of my attention, such as my research in the lab, blogging, and trying to eat healthy (preparing your own food takes lots of time).

Ah, the joys of responsible living. Well, I guess the follow-up question would be what would I like to spend my time if I had more of it?

Well, for starters, I would like to read a novel. I haven’t read a fiction novel in months. That’s kind of sad for someone like me who is an avid reader. I love to read. If I had more time, I’d also love to get more exercise and be outside to enjoy the weather.

Maybe all of this lamenting these past few weeks are symptoms that I need to stop and smell the roses (i.e., go on vacation). Stop working for a bit.

I’ve been in a kind of information overload in the research. I’m spinning off in a new direction for my projects, and it requires so much energy to carry this thing off the ground, i.e., collecting data, running experiments, preparing for grants, that I’m feeling the need to relax, just a bit.

… I do sleep well, which is awesome!

There’s the sense that time is speeding up in my life. Going faster and faster, maybe like water down a drain, or air up into a tornado. I think for some people this would be frightening, very, but I’m simply fine with it. I guess it’s normal and I’m enjoying the journey! We know where it ends for the most part. 

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Academia, Career, Philosophy, Problems to Solve, Thinking, Wisdom, Writing

Enthusiasm Expulsion

The first step in any endeavor is planning. In my project, I usually need to start with anatomy. I need to know where the parts, muscles and nerves, fit together so that when they get messed up I can pinpoint where exactly things might have gone wrong.

Obviously, the anatomy I study doesn’t involve anything human. This is entirely within another experimental system, which is the reflection of our bodies–the prototypical lab rat. Well, I don’t want to get into trouble, so I won’t go into details except to say that this is a fully justified study that could be done in no alternative way. We go through a lot of regulatory paperwork, some of which can slow down our progress, but I can see the benefit in terms of preventing unnecessary cruelty.

Now, I’m fired up for this study and can’t wait to get the ball rolling. Yes, that’s about it for this posting. I wanted to expel my enthusiasm. It’s like a feeling of being on queue for a roller coaster ride. You know you’re going to have fun and excitement, definitely going to get sick to my stomach, and certainly some screaming a long the way (oh, “my life is over!” kind of thing); and yet, I step off at the end with something to report home about.

That is science, ups and downs, and some screaming in horror along the way. It’s not for everyone.

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Academia, Philosophy, Relationships, Thinking, Writing

Writing: A Scientific Instrument

Let’s bounce a ball. 

I write to get the concepts in my head into a single place. As such, I think writing is one of the most powerful tools I’ve employed in the years I’ve been a scientist. The physical and mental process of associating ideas together naturally and inevitably produces new concepts.

Free writing, as I’m trying now, engages the creative side; the imagination. And for the purpose of empirical research, at least for me, provides new avenues for me to explore.

There are relationships in the real world. Relationships from the top of the food pyramid chain-link all the way down to the microscopic level. Organisms, as complex as a human being or even a bacterium fail in isolation. Being alone does not compute in the mathematical formula for survival.

Here’s a twitch. Words fail in a vacuum. A single word has meaning, but it’s true appears only within the context of its usage. In my daily routine, I try to take notes, as random as they arrive through my thoughts. In a way, I hope through this “play” I will discover something new that my mind has buried within itself.

Within the imagination, sometimes and perhaps rarely, therein lies a gem of information that could not have been gathered in any other way, except through a heated discussion with your colleagues, or through quiet contemplation with pen and paper.

Writing is process for building valuable relationships. It is cliche to say writing is a journey. Writing is more complex than a simple journey, and paradoxically much simpler.

Let’s take this into the realm of science research. There are links between mechanisms that underlie disease. Cancer at some biological point is related to heart disease, for example. If such a putative link exists, then it follows that learning about one problem can teach us about other diseases.

Science is a big place. The knowledge accumulated over centuries, though piecemeal, actually amounts to an infinite number of possibilities when it comes to understanding how our physical world works.

A question exists. I write to discover it. Somehow, I feel (as corny as this sounds) that words and language holds a key unifying piece of knowledge. This key would solve all diseases because that singular meaningful knowledge would provide information to teach us about all the other diseases over and over again–like the shattering of glass that starts from a single impact. What is the first cause for the impact?

If we knew the first cause, then we could dissect all the other problems because they are built upon actual relationships. I suppose writing is a scientific instrument, because it is a process through examining, using, and expressing relationships–both within us and with our World.


The ball rolls off the table….

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Existence, Humor, Philosophy, Problems to Solve, Prose, Thinking, Writing

Is this burn out?

I awoke to the hollow clang of an empty gas tank.

Too much. Can’t focus. 

This feeling of just-let-me-sleep-more always catches me off guard. I don’t expect it when it hits me. I suppose it’s nice that I can write it down here. Not a complaint, but a mere exhalation of life onto a page.

I like how I can find metaphors from everything around me to describe my experiences. I’m climbing a hill, or crawling through a dark underground hole–and you know what I’m talking about. I’m burned-out and slogging along through the mud trying to finish the simple daily tasks beset in front of me, that only yesterday seemed trivial.

Funny thing is, I know tomorrow or even 5 minutes from now, I’ll have the fire again. I don’t know where it comes from: inspiration. An intake of air that propels you forward through the day, the minutes and seconds of experience.

So I patiently wait for it, inspiring oxygen (the non-metaphorical kind), and doing what needs to be done through habit. The emotion and drive behind it, a simple twitch of muscle.

I’m an academic….maybe it’s mental fatigue. If I dig through my ear canals, I may find soot and ash. I drove this car fast and hard. Time to park this vehicle I drive in my head on a parking lot in a fancy exotic place. My bed sounds nice.

But really, I suppose it’s not burn-out. I’m stable on solid ground. I just want to do something different. So many of the same tasks ahead of me. Done that, been there. Tedium. I’ve lost the thrill.

Yet, I know, I’ve heard some wisdom on this:

“Let the thrill go — let it die away — go on through that period of death into the quieter interest and happiness that follow — and you will find you are living in a world of new thrills all the time.” C.S. Lewis wrote.

 

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Existence, Faith, Philosophy, Thinking, Writing

Imagine Imperfection

In a perfect world, super heroes would be useless. As I drove home the other night, that was what I was thinking. I know I’m getting a bit deeper and blunt(er) than I had anticipated for this blog, but hey, why not? Monday blues I ‘pose.

Truly, why do we create fake characters like Superman or Ironman? What is it with these fictional characters that will never exist in real life. And if you believe that these people in comic books and movies can or will exist someday in our universe then you have more faith than I do.

Crazy is another matter.

Anyway, I digress. This is my simple ramble about how we “waste” our time dreaming and pondering how great or inspirational it would be to either meet some of these fake heroes, or be them in some form or another.

I’m sure there are exceptional people who don’t get any thrill from these stories of characters with supernatural powers. But, deep down I think there is a collective and universal hope that somewhere there is something bigger, if this is the correct word, that can really change our perception of our current existence.

A collective hope for bigger.

I’m not sure we could reach this height without our imagination

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