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

Can’t wait….for Spring

It was quiet in the lab today. Though I was busy working on a presentation to my colleagues for a meeting next week, I didn’t feel very productive. I tried my best to set small goals and hit them, hoping the breaking of tasks into small steps would help me push harder. I think what it was, was my excitement for starting something new. The old unexciting parts were just holding me back.

It’s going to be really busy this Spring….

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