Friday, October 27, 2006
To Live and Die in Yutan NE
I grew up in a small town just outside of Omaha. People like to make fun of that but it wasn't an unpleasant experience. I can remember walking to school and meeting Mark and Tony along the way. Marks mom would walk him downtown where we would meet up. A couple of blocks later we'd see Tony goofing around on the front porch waiting for us. At the beginning of the school year we'd walk through the falling Maple leaves and discuss our Halloween plans.
I was a bad boy however and Marks mom soon came to dislike me. He wasn't allowed to hang out with me after the third or fourth grade. His mom was a bit over protective. I mean how bad could I have been at that age? Tony grew up to be a biker. I joined the Navy and later went to college in Colorado. Mark went straight to college at UNL and became a school teacher. He died of non-Hodgkins Lymphoma at the age of 32.
There weren't too many kids my age in this small town in Nebraska. Most of them are still there. They are farmers, truck drivers, mechanics, Walmart workers, nurses and any other job that absolutely must get done on a daily basis. I moved around the country after college working in University labs and biotech companies. The work I did, did not need to get done on a daily basis. At least that is the way it felt. A co-worker at UCSF once came to work, said hello then crossed the street for eight solid hours of studying for her pilates test that she had to take that night. No one noticed she was gone. We met her for lunch to see how she was doing. "Anyone ask for me yet?" she asked. We laughed. We sat there outside the University deli that overlooks Golden Gate Park and the rest of the city. We had it made. Not a lot of money but we were overpaid no matter what they gave us.
I knew back home the people worked harder. They had to get their work done or someone would notice. What I didn't know was that Mark was dying. I hadn't kept in touch. I e-mailed an old friend about a Husker game. He said that Mark had died. If anyone should have been working hard everyday, it should have been those of us in laboratories and who spend money allotted for medical research. Of course our research at UCSF was on a disease that hardly no one died from, mad cow. It soon became clear that this was a disease that was sold rather than researched. The cause of the disease was still in question but our job was to hammer home the labs forgone conclusion. To me, this attitude was not justified by the power of the research. We couldn't test for mad cow. We couldn't slow down the disease. We couldn't prevent it. All we did was tell the same old story over and over. But what did it matter, no one died from it. Just some cows.
At my next job in Los Angeles we did study cancer. A professor had made a pretty niffty antibody that would bind to denatured collagen, but not the properly folded collagen. He claimed it prevented angiogenisis, the formation of blood vessels, which would result in starving a tumor. Every tissue needs blood to provide oxygen and the carry away waste. We were all confused because the professor did not have a clue as to what denatured collagen had to do with angiogenisis. He said that angiogenisis "factors" bound to collagen when tissue was being torn down by an invasive tumor. There was no evidence of this and we weren't there to falsify his notions. He wanted us to prove that the antibodies shrunk tumors and that was it. Of course we couldn't. This antibody is now a leading candidate for a company in Germany. The larger company that bought us up has since failed with their cancer vaccine. They were forced to sell their licenses to the German company. The Cargo Cult Scientist is waiting for news of this drug failing. It WILL be posted in this blog. The antibody WILL NOT become a drug.
I wonder how we would have approached our research if we had been working on Marks disease? If we had to see Mark everyday as he slowly deteriorated. Would we have been so casual? This is what really motivates me to write the Cargo Cult Scientist. One of my first friends in life died 7 years ago. Since then I've been travelling the country like a vagabond, looking for work as if I were a farm hand. I haven't worked for 8 months now and I'm still lacking motivation. I apply for work but only half heartedly. Even the Universities seem to select for individuals who are more concerned about publications rather than pursueing the truth. The truth can help those who are now dying of what Mark died of. A cancer is taking over their body. Perhaps we could do something about that. The problem is that your Nebraska mechanic has more experience at his job than your big city cancer researcher. The guy in the lab doing the work is most likely in between college and their next attempt at a career. It's not a grown up career. I graduated in 96. What will I be doing in December, my ten year anniversery from graduation? Will I be using my education and experience to conduct research or will I be driving a cab? People need to get places in the city. It could cover the bills.
One thing I'm not too worried about is a lack of insurance. I have a good excuse to never see a doctor. Can't afford it. If I come down with a cancer I'll run my last experiment. Drug free cancer therapy.