The Beat of A Different Drum

As a student known to sleep through a larger portion of my immunology lectures, the material, for me personally, lacked a little oomph. IgM. APC. CD28. C4b2a3b. A litany of cells, cytokines, and receptor molecules with unimaginative names and, often, even less enticing tasks that sounded more like a roll call for Star Wars characters. Little did I know, however, that the lessons imprinted on me in immunology translated to a much broader message.

Our biological well-being relies on the body’s meticulous ability to distinguish between the innate and the foreign. Thus, recognizing our own self is a lesson imbued to us by our own immune system. If the crux of good health relies on our body’s ability to recognize the “self” from “non-self” then being a good doctor, in my opinion, is about recognizing one’s own motives, perceptions, and attitudes against the backdrop of competing interests.

While conducting a research study on undertreated pain in sickle cell patients in a small middle-income nation, I interviewed around 40 sickle cell patients. After several long weeks of talking to patients, they all seemed to blend together as one in my head. However, one particular patient would always stick out in my mind. William, as I’ll call him, was rather gaunt and scraggly when he walked into the clinic where I was conducting interviews. His uncharacteristically hollow and worn face spoke volumes about his disposition and how mismanaged his pain was as a result of his disease.

Nevertheless, it wasn’t his face or his stature that made him more noticeable in my mind, but rather something about his eyes. There was a glaring yellowish tone within them, signs of full-blown jaundice, a common symptom of the disease, but even that was far from what made them distinctive. It was, instead, the dejected look he carried about him, a man who lost that sustaining spark to carry on. More so than his body, it was his spirit that was crippled. Continue reading

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Where Does Your Loyalty Lie?

My research mentor for most of my undergraduate career.

As an undergrad at UW, I was fortunate to work in James Thomson’s regenerative biology lab. Jamie (as he was fondly known) was the first cellular biologist in the world to derive the first set of human embryonic stem cell lines and in 2007, matched his previous brilliance with a new ability to program adult skin cells into becoming pluripotent stem cells. Although rather demure in nature, Jamie’s novel work catapulted him into not only the limelight of scientific endeavor but also the ire of certain conservatives as well. His breakthroughs were discussed in terms of not only medical impact and potential for progress but initiated tangents on moral and ethical guidelines. From the Bush administration to the Obama administration, regulating stem cell research is a topic still laced with obstacles and contrived of many ill-formed perspectives. The promise stem cells hold in terms of treatment towards many debilitating diseases on the face of planet today is boundless and immense—something I won’t even attempt to approach in this blog. Likewise, the amount of funding poured into such research endeavors stands to be astounding, especially if the president is allowed to lift the limit on how much funding can be provided. Continue reading