Friday, May 26, 2006

Response to a couple of new comments

After a long sojourn from blogging due to too much actual science going on (!), I'm feeling lazy about work this afternoon and wanted to respond to a couple of questions:

"At 9:12 PM, Anonymous said...
I read this frequently and find it quite entertaining. I can only infer that you are a biologist. My question for you and people who respond is, Are you a scientist or a technologist? What I mean is do you study science or do you use science to produce technology. So many people in my department are what I would call technologists. They do something which I call "applied science." And they spend their time chasing grant money and writing grant proposals promising that they can develop so and so to treat this or that. And they get the money. Technology is great, and the people who do it have tremendous talents. BUT the reason for the workaholic culture and so many other negatives in our field comes from this invasion of technology into our basic science departments. Or maybe I am just jealous.

Dr. Why not How"

I'm a scientist. I don't claim to develop technology, it's really not my thing. I do end up developing techniques as I need them to answer questions, but I'm a basic scientist, not an applied scientist. I agree though, that grants where you promise to develop treatments or technology seem to have higher funding rates. I think basic science is going the way of the dodo, unfortunately.

"At 10:57 PM, Anonymous said...
Why is the cure cancer goal so popular. Cancer is a disease which MOSTLY affects old people, and they are going to die soon anyway. Is it not smarter to try to treat and cure diseases that affect mostly young people, so they have a chance to live life and then get old and drop dead from cancer. Think about it


Actually it was the pediatric cases in my building that really got me inspired to study cancer when I first started out. But that's just me.

I'm not going to go into why my research is relevant to cancer, you'll just have to take my word for it. But I'm interested in other diseases, too.... I'm so specialized now (aren't most postdocs?) that I'm more interested in diseases as they relate to my favorite proteins/pathways rather than being interested in a particular disease that's totally unrelated to my expertise. It's horrible but it's true- it's really hard to switch fields at this point, so I'm trying to play to my strengths and work in areas where I think I can make a difference.

If anything I think cancer funding is going down, since the number of cancer deaths is actually going down, because we're better at detection now. Scientifically, though, I think it's a really interesting disease, since cancer cells are in some ways more evolved, more 'fit', than 'normal' cells. And lots of things change as a cell progresses from being normal to having this enormous advantage. And it affects people of all ages (although, as you point out, not all age groups are affected equally).

If anything, as I get older I know more people who have cancer or are related to someone who has cancer (or died from it). In some ways that makes me feel better about what I do. Other days I'm frustrated there's so much we still don't know.


At 4:59 PM, Blogger Abel PharmBoy said...

And I've been away from commenting on your blog - welcome back and hope the expts are going well.

I share your concerns about studying pediatric cancers and can even make arguments for studying rare cancers. When looking for a postdoc, I tried to look at labs that might not have necessarily been cancer-related, but addressed crucial biological questions that could be applied to cancer. I recall being hugely impressed with the field of yeast senescence (Michal Jazwinski at LSU Med Ctr).

The fascinating thing about cancer is that it is an invader that is incredibly similar to self. This quality also makes it most difficult to treat. Also, the cells most responsive to drug therapy die, leaving you with the ones most difficult to treat. Imagine if that were the case with vasodilating antihypertensives.

Finally, I also think there is an emotional component to cancer that is probably only approached by a diagnosis of HIV/AIDS or a rare genetic disorder in children. It scares the bejeezus out of folks because it so often reminds us that we do indeed have this sexually-transmitted, terminal disease called life. Cancer prevention is far more effective than any chemotherapy or biological/immunotherapy will likely be in our scientific lifetimes, but it is far more glamourous to be involved in developing a new drug than a chemopreventive strategy.

Looking forward to joining you at Sb.

At 8:20 AM, Blogger dlamming said...

Welcome back! I've missed reading your posts.

I don't think cancer funding will go down immediately - though directions may switch. A lot of aging research is funded by cancer grants, for example.

As for what your anon commenter said - curing cancer is most devestating to young and middle aged people, and is one of the top causes of death. Curing cancer would easily add many years - and many Good years - onto the average lifespan.

At 4:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Science and technology have always been and will ever be linked. You can only take science so far with existing technology. At some point there is a need for invention. That said, technology should not be developed just because it can be developed. New technology should be developed to allow us to address questions that are unattainable with today's technology. To be successful at the top schools, I think you have to do some of each. If you're at the forefront of your scientific field but have no skill in developing new technology (or at least being in a position to become an early adopter), how long can you remain in the fore? If you're god's gift to analytical biochemistry (or whatever) but you don't know any particular scientific field well enough to identify a critical problem that cannot be resolved with contemporary tools, then what difference does it make if you can get a single molecule to sing the star spangled banner?

At 12:49 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

I'm just going to reply to anonymous since the other two comments require more thought than I have free neurons for right now.

I LOVE the image of a single molecule singing the star spangled banner!! That made me smile.

I agree with you that science & technology will forever be linked, and should be. That said, I want to amend my previous statements and say that I don't think technology should only be developed to solve an obvious question- I think PCR is a great example of something where no one could have foreseen just how many permutations of useful stuff we now use it for, some of which have nothing to do with why it was invented. There are tons of examples of failed inventions that were later co-opted for totally unforseen uses. Say, for example, most pharmaceutics, e.g. Viagra, and so on. Not to say that I'm pro-Viagra (I'm not sure how I feel about it, to be honest, but mostly I think it's sad).

See? not enough neurons to even finish a thought.

At 12:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Viagra sad ? No No No. Viagra good. Now, who gets to have the super fun job of naming these drugs? Imagine how cool it would be if that was your job! Do you think the viagra name is in anyway inspired from niagra (the waterfall) ?

At 8:46 AM, Anonymous Negocio Inversiones said...

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