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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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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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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Academia, Existence, Missions, Philosophy, Problems to Solve, Prose, Storm, Thinking, Wisdom

A Day Off

I’ve slowed down my blogging to focus on priorities in my work schedule. I’m preparing to write a grant and rearing to dive into a new project. Also had a few projects end nicely with publishable results. So in all, April has been a perfect storm of activity.

I sit right in the middle of the eye of it right now.

Calm, but swirly, if I can call it that. That’s how I feel. Whew. Someone once said to me that “…in life, you’re either coming out of a storm, in a storm, or about to enter a storm.”

Brilliant. A bit cynical, but ingenious and true. So, I think I’m somewhere in the exiting part of it.

That in itself deserves a kind of celebration, a day off, and thank goodness I really did get a cold yesterday–had an extra, extra excuse to take a day off. A day off to think, to ponder, to reflect, to gather myself up again; gain those steely eyes and the rock solid determination to slap the next project in the face and find out what’s going on in this nasty disease we call neuropathic pain and spasticity.

My day off… I think I’ll take another one tomorrow. It’s Good Friday, for realz.

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Academia, Compassion, Existence, Faith, Missions, Pain, Philosophy, Thinking, Time

Please, don’t jump

Life is hard: this understatement comes to my mind whenever I hear news from a friend about a tragedy in an individual’s life. There are some situations in which there appears no escape, like being trapped on the roof of a burning building. I guess you could jump off the side and end it quickly.

What would I do in an impossible situation?

I hear of a friend who has lost her job, she’s 58, single and has to stay home to care for her sick mother (who has dementia). She’s depressed and lonely, as many of us would be in such a situation.

I also learn of a colleague who has a broken family because of a husband’s mental disorder, and she is trying to keep it together. She doesn’t have control over the situation and can only grasp what she can, her kids and finances (maybe not the finances so much anymore).

So much, craziness in this life. I wish I could wave a wand and say it would all be better if they would “wait a bit longer”, but that isn’t a genuine answer. The truth is, I don’t know if a person’s situation gets better in this life. Suffering is the norm, not the exception for people.

I listen to them, more than speak, because it’s the best I can do. In general, I know my mouth can’t speak too much lest I give them something they can’t handle right away.

And that is the Truth. It comes back to the burning building. You’re trapped on the roof, the smoke is rising, darkness filling up all around. I would say, if I could, that the escape route is up.

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Coffee, Diet, Existence, Food, Pipe smoking, Vegan

Oops, I’m a Vegan!?

It’s been 13 days at being a vegan and I’m pleased to report that I’ve not had a single nibble of any animal flesh in this time. Though I admit I’ve been tempted on many an occasion by the sight and smell of juicy, sizzling bacon, and the odd-ball chocolate mousse cake. I had the gusto to turn them all away.

It was kind of amazing actually how easy it was to stay faithful to this diet. I used to be the person who made fun of people on these strict dietary regimes. I’m now eating my words as I do feel “better”. I’m lighter on my feet if that makes sense, probably because I’ve got less processing in my gut. Maybe other chemical things are going on that I don’t know about or understand.

(I did lose 6 pounds since I started)

Another weird and unexpected effect is that I don’t crave the meats or cheeses as much as I did before. It’s totally weird because I love that stuff! I still do; I’m sure I’d enjoy the taste of a pizza or a ribeye steak that I’ve slapped on my grill.

Oh my poor grill…. What am I going to do in the Summer? Grilled veggies?! Mushrooms? The abominable veggie burger?

For another 2 weeks I’ll stick with this vegan thing. I’ll get a blood test from the doctor and see if a month of no meats or diary products actually does anything significant for me. I did have somewhat of a high cholesterol issue.

But, thinking about all this goodness in my healthful choices, I did make some boo-boo(s).

1. I put sugar in my coffee.

2. I had a puff out of my tobacco pipe.

But, “I didn’t inhale…”.

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