Academia, Career, Economics, Faith, Neurological Disorders, Pain, Problems to Solve, Spinal Cord Injury, Uncategorized, Writing

Grant Amazing

I  did! I posted again!

Okay, it’s been a long time since my last post. While I feel bad about not keeping up with the blog, at the same time, I have a good reason. I’ve been deep in the bowels of grant-writing.

Science, despite all it’s glorious discoveries and wonders, fails without cold-hard cash driving it forward. In our day and age, money motivates discovery. Almost all our breakthroughs in science have some kind of sponsored backing.

Sad, but true. But then, many of us who are in the field of academic science research are driven by more than simply the need for knowledge fulfillment. Personally, I believe I belong in research (for now). And I love to teach…. which in my position provides me with that opportunity.

Regarding Money

With my desire to propel my projects forward, I’ve stopped nearly all distractions from my ability to devote time and energy to getting a grant. As some of my friends know, I’ve made this a top priority. I firmly believe that the work I’m doing in the lab will have some future benefit as well provide an exciting perspective on the issues of Spinal Cord Injury and Pain. 

A metaphorical image….

So I give myself a pat on the shoulder, because just a day ago I got a phone call from the funding agency that my grant application has been award full-funding for the next two-years.

I’m a young investigator, and this is my first grant funded as the principle investigator. In the course of an academic career, this is a THE milestone toward something “bigger” or at the very least more independent. For a little bit of time, and to a point, I will have my own little research space to study something on my own. This is nice, scary, and exciting all at the same time.

As I move forward, as the quiet margins open up again, I will try my best to continue my ruminations. Writing continues to be a great outlet… no matter the topic.

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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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Career, Faith, Missions, Neurological Disorders, Philosophy, Spinal Cord Injury, Thinking, Time, Wisdom, Writing

Mission for a Cure


A small step….

I’m pleasantly surprised how this week has gone. Upon reflection, I’ve made tangible progress.

I’m always surprised by how the small steps when added together make this bigger goal come true. Every project I work on has been a huge undertaking.

I’m slowly working out a process on how to effectively manage these projects. It goes against my nature to slow down and take things one step at a time. But, this is how it should be done, I think.

Like a painter working on a masterpiece. It starts with a single brush stroke, followed by another, and on.

The mission to the Moon began as small rocket launches. The first orbit around the Earth was a step toward reaching the Moon.

Developing a drug for curing spinal cord injury would ultimately arrive the same way. A small step here. A small test there. Perhaps this preclinical study in an rat will provide the foundation for a successful treatment.

My projects, I suppose, are the brush strokes, the first launches into the stratosphere.

I reach for the Moon, but keep my eye on the prize which is Today.

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Compassion, Existence, Philosophy, Spinal Cord Injury, Thinking, Wisdom, Writing

Writing Prose-y

Of late, I’ve been writing a lot. These have been of the erudite sort, research papers and such. Hence, my predisposition to thinking about the process and how my toolbox of writing “utensils” has grown over the years.

A few years ago I read a book about writing that changed my approach to putting words on a page. The Elements of Style, by Strunk & White, opened my eyes to how BAD my writing skills were (not hitting greatness yet either).

To keep my ego in check, I’ll just say that I’m a lot better at seeing the errors I make. I can see where I make mistakes and know how to improve poorly written sentences, etc. As important, I know how to help other people with their writing, because of the tips and tricks that Strunk & White in their awesome wisdom have imparted on me.

Of course, as an academic, the things I write are (for the most part) very technical and, to the layman, boring. That is because we write to convey information in its purest form. I can be creative only in that I don’t sacrifice objective communication. No fancy prose. For example, I can’t say this:

“After spinal cord injury, neurons met a spectacular end, never to regrow again–that is, until we came along.”

I’d lose my job if I wrote stuff like that. Instead, I have to resort to mediocre stuff like: “We observed neuronal death following spinal cord injury.”

Yes, science is predicated upon good, wholesome facts from-me-to-you writing styles. I guess this is where this blog post comes into play. I have the freedom to write whatever about my work (or my life and opinions) without the editorial axe murderer chopping my head off for prose-y things.

Anyway, writing should be fun, refreshing, a place of security and vulnerability at the same time; and for many of us who like to do it a lot; somewhat painful in a very, very good way.

Writing sounds a bit like love. 

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Academia, Career, Missions, Problems to Solve, Spinal Cord Injury, Time

A Neuro Nightlife: Slice and Dice

Alone in the lab on a Friday night, again. Why, oh why am I the nearly last to leave? Some might say I’m a total loser (some melodrama for kick). Others may congratulate me on my hard working ethic, my unreserved drive to produce results. (Actually, most of my friends would agree with the former).

As for why I’m in the lab alone on an evening when most of my peers are either with their families, out partying, or going out to a fancy dinner to celebrate the end of the work week; I am on the cryostat cutting spinal cord tissues into micron-thick (very small) slices.

My friend, Leica

The machine I’m using, and have temporarily taken a break to write this blog post, is basically a freezer that contains a deli-slicing machine. Instead of cold-cutting ham, I’m cold-cutting spinal cord.

The slices are melted onto glass microscope slides where, at a later date, I’ll perform a procedure that will allow me to visualize the microscopic structure of neurons. It’s similar to developing a photograph in the dark room…. but a bit more involved.

According to my calculations, I’ll be done, um, oh who cares! I’m rocking the iTunes on a Friday night, slicing and dicing. All is good.

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Academia, Missions, Neurological Disorders, Pain, Problems to Solve, Spinal Cord Injury

Digging for treasure

I suppose it’s time to write something about my day. Just a quick note, a slice  of my 24 hours.

I’m now in the laboratory, sitting at my desk, thinking that I need to do more research. After my talk yesterday, I received a few questions and critiques regarding my next steps for my project.

The run down: I’ve built a firm foundation that I can rest my thoughts upon. The foundation are a series of papers I published that demonstrate a structural substrate, or medium, for the abnormal sensory sensations processed by the nervous system after injury (or disease).

Now that I’ve built this ‘floor’, I’ve been encouraged to explore targets that could test that foundation. Find the cracks, as it were. In order for me to do that, I have to go back to the drawing board; find out where there is a gap in my knowledge in my conceptual model.

To do this, I need to read. I need to read the plethora of literature regarding the possible mechanisms, or machinery, that may control what is happening inside the injured spinal nervous system. There is so much.

In the past, I’ve been able to focus my quest by the simple method of asking simple questions. So, now I will pose one as I dig into the netherworld of the internet databases, where decades of published work may reveal something useful for me.

I’m on a scavenger hunt, but I don’t know what I’m looking for. Not yet, anyway. How exciting….

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Academia, Coffee, Compassion, Missions, Neurological Disorders, Problems to Solve, Spinal Cord Injury, Writing

Steadfast, moving forward

I failed to meet my goal to maintain a posting frequency of one per day. I knew it was unrealistic given the workload I have in the lab. My well-being improves when I’m away from a computer as well (i.e., long-term desk work is bad for your health). Don’t get me wrong, I can be a prolific writer. I can dump my thoughts on a page and have you all read my freely associated mind boggles straight-up like a shot glass of 200 proof ethanol. Yes.

In other news, I’ll just say that drinking coffee chronically and then stopping abruptly is dumb. I couldn’t keep my head above my shoulders for more than 20 minutes this weekend. I’m back though.

In the lab today…

I presented my research to about 20 of my peers, including the director of the research Center. I’m happy to report that I’m alive with my ego intact. I’m at peace with my ideas; the tearing and gnashing of my conceptual approach did not happen. So, now that I’ve got the proverbial green light to continue moving forward, I shall.  I’d like to thank my friend, mswestfall who authors the blog My Unplanned Life, for her moral support over the weekend.

Now, I’m moving forward with writing a cover letter to an editor of an academic journal. I’d like to submit my report for publication in this journal. It would be really kind of them to accept my work there, because that would get the word out about what I do in the lab. It’s such a pleasure when people hear what you have to say, understand it, and then somehow apply it. Feels good to know my thinking is relevant and useful and that people agree. We’ll see….

Steadfast

I had a thought about how I had become steadfast in my work. Not always like this; not really. When I was younger, just a few years ago, I used to become anxious that I wasn’t doing a good enough job. I’d work hard, then I’d feel that I had done, inadequately. That was what drove me. It was a feeling of fear or anxiety in my job.

No longer true. I’m more confident than before, hence, I feel more “free” to explore my ideas, and know that should I choose, I have the technical capability to execute. This is maturity, I think, and what a silly ladder we climb. I’m not even sure I need to consider this stuff anymore. Just go. Step. This is how I live now I suppose; within this routine of work, rest, work, and final rest. Bad things happen in my job, failure in an experiment, but I keep moving.

A lesson of wisdom, perhaps. I’m pedaling a bicycle, up and down, but the end result is forward motion. I know I’m moving forward, metaphorically, because I see the anchors and milestones behind me. Alas, as a scientist, as a human, I’m steadfast, moving forward.

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