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.

Advertisements
Standard
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!

Standard
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.

Standard
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.

Standard
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. 

Standard
Compassion, Existence, Philosophy, Thinking, Writing

Solid Ground, Walking

Walking and writing go hand-in-hand. On the stroll to the lab from the parking lot I pass through the front entrance of the VA hospital. Everyday I see injured military veterans of various wars. Based on my guess of their ages, most of these patients endured combat in Vietnam, Korea, and Iraq (Desert Storm in the 90’s). Maybe a few younger men are from recent theaters.

Today.

It was a beautiful morning and many of the patients were outside: some holding canes, others bound to wheelchairs, a few were clustered together smoking cigarettes; altogether I noticed a diversity of visages. Older, haggard soldiers of times-past had looks of despondency, almost as if the resiliency had disappeared from their bodies a long time ago. Not all of them, mind you, just a few sitting on the concrete K-rails lining the roundabout entrance. Others, sat alone with their smokes, cheerfully admiring the day.

Picasso said it best.

I kind of like the smell of cigarette smoke, oddly.

These guys have faced a reality I will likely never see (or not in an government sanctioned fashion). This is my morning: walk from car, pass hospital entrance, enter security check  to the laboratories. Never do I see the inside of the goings-ons of the clinical areas. But, I know that someplace there is a never-ending torment in some of these patients. I know it, but don’t feel it.

I don’t throw cliches about recklessly, but I can’t imagine (for some, not all) the suffering they have experienced in the past, and still carry with them. Granted, this is true for me. If my pitifully small thorns in my side were magnified 1000-fold, then I may also be weak of body and of fragile mind. We have a harsh reality around us.

No platitudes here. I’m simply in awe of the darkness this world can throw at you. This is it, ladies and gentlemen, please find your footing.

Standard
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.

Related articles
Standard