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.

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!

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.

Coffee, Diet, Food, Humor, Vegan

Bright, Sunny, Egg-less

I’m a whole-foods vegan. Temporarily. Just going to try this for 28 days with my wife and see how it goes. Well, only for 3 days now and I’ve got to say that I’m feeling the internal difference. I’m on the verge of my seat whenever my colleagues at work bring in their bacon cheese burgers for lunch (with french fries). There was an ache in my chest the other day; took me a moment to realize it was the pain of not having any ketchup in my diet. Ugh, I love ketchup.

Then, I found myself day dreaming while at my computer doing some work that I was walking to the hospital cafeteria. Row upon row of sloppy joes, taco Tuesday specials, and cold-cut submarines served by gentle elderly servers flashed before me. And I got these sudden headaches; I just wanted to lie down.

Are these symptoms of withdrawal?

This, I could learn to enjoy!

As part of this diet, we are choosing to avoid foods that came from anything that could have moved in its past life. I tried to make the argument that eggs shouldn’t be a part of the diet (it doesn’t move), but then I realized my empirical way of making-sense doesn’t always work against my wife. She’s a smart lady. Eggs, she says, are moving because they are inside the body of an animal that moves, hence, the eggs move by default.

A losing battle, for sure. Well, on the bright sunny egg-less side, we have been having….what shall we say? Healthy movements more than twice a day.

Oh, and I can still drink coffee, so all is good!

Academia, Economics, Philosophy, Politics, Problems to Solve, Time, Uncategorized, Writing

No More Newtons

English: Isaac Newton Dansk: Sir Isaac Newton ...

Sir Issac Newton

The man was a recluse, aloof in anything social. He threw himself in his work, staying at his desk for hours and hours and sometimes never slept. He was a professor and had few teaching responsibilities so he was able to disappear and work on physics and astronomy with no one to bother him. He was a scientist by all rights.

I’ve had moments like this. So absorbed with trying to figure out a problem or resolve some issue; maybe something that I might have thought was interesting. I have sat in one place for long periods of time working or just writing. When this happens, time has no place. I disappear.

But, this is rare. I’m a cog in a big wheel, and I can’t just go off the deep end for very long, no matter how fun or enthralling such adventures could be in my work.

In the distant past, a scientist didn’t have to worry about their ‘brand’ or reputation. After all there were so few of them. If you were a scientist, you were the only one in the entire town or city. Money was no problem. You were probably already rich, an aristocrat who didn’t have to run business or anything like that. You had a lot of time on your hands so you spent it by exploring the world around you. There was a freedom back then that is no longer true today. Scientists of old were an elite group.


Though not bad in of itself, it seems now that successful academic science people have become best used within a corporate enterprise. I say enterprise because in fact science is now a matter of business. It is now within this construct of marketing, personal networking, and money-acquiring.

What has happened seems to be me like a saturation of the research field (a lot of them), and through some weird coagulation, some type of pseudo-feudal system has been setup in American academia. The majority of the most successful laboratories are the larger ones (i.e., several technicians, post-docs, tier-ranked scientists, and students), which have built-up over time a great system of resources, both labor and money, and through that body maintain the collective creativity of many, diverse people.

So, today with funding problems in science in this country, the corporate labs can keep moving and making those papers, and so can keep making money.

In the past, there was one scientific question, and 2-3 people working to get the answer. Now, there are 10 questions that maybe a thousand people are working on. Some might say this is good, but thinking about it–this doesn’t mean there are 10 answers for those 10 questions. It could mean there are 200 answers for 10 questions! Since there are only a few top-tier journals, there is a violent rush to beat your neighboring competitors. Because of the speed, each answer might differ by a little bit. A little bit here, a bit there.

In the past, those 2-3 people would answer that question. It might take them a year or two, but they’d produce solid evidence that had no wobbly room. What great concrete and solid foundations they have built.

No more Sir Issac Newtons running around discovering or describing the properties of gravity; not alone at least. It’s kind of a bitter-sweet predicament for modern science. Corporate science appears to be our future.

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….

Academia, Career, Compassion, Faith, Pain, Philosophy, Spinal Cord Injury, Wisdom

Compassion in Science (about Pain)

I awoke to find my wife in pain. She had broken her wrist earlier in the month, and had just accidentally knocked her arm into the side of the door by the bathroom.

On top of this, she had a wisdom tooth removed by a dentist. The procedure had complications and the result was chronic inflammation and pain on the left side of her face. She now takes Vicodin, daily, wears a brace for her wrist, and has missed several days of work already.

We had a conversation this morning about her pain after she recovered from the smack with the door jam.

“I think I understand why people get depressed,” she said–“when they have chronic pain.”

“And for some people it doesn’t go away,” I replied.

“I know,” she said. “I’m okay.”

I felt better when she said she’d be fine. It would be a few weeks, but her injuries are minor and will heal completely. Soon, and truthfully, we will both forget a lot of the discomfort this brief experience into daily pain and the interruption it brings into our home.

This is why I write now, to remember–that what I do in the laboratory has greater importance, and is done in the awareness that I must approach this type of work diligently.

I know there are so many challenges ahead, including personal issues with this kind of work (I’ve talked about this in other posts); there is something else that pushes me. I’m not 100% entirely sure what that is. But nonetheless, I want to work with compassion in my SCI research. I truly do want to know that it goes beyond the paycheck, the tedious paperwork, the politics, and can make a difference–even just a small one.

This is something I’ll keep in mind today when I head into work. I’m not helpless here. I’ve got an idea.