Sugar, Cytokines and Everything Nice…

Sugar, cytokines and everything nice–that’s what RBC differentiation media is made of. $300 dollars a bottle. More expensive than any wine I’d purchase at this time in my life (or ever), but our cells deserve the best.

It’s been awhile! Life has been good.My project is moving forward. This week, I ran a FACS analysis on some cells that I have tried to make in to red blood cells, and it’s really exciting to see that they are well on their way. What a journey these cells have been on. From a terminally differentiated blood cell –> to an induced pluripotent stem cell –> CD34+ blood cell progenitor. I’m patiently awaiting the day they can mature even further and become capable of sickling. Maturation is a journey. And I know that this is going to be REALLY corny and nerdy but here we go…

I’ve been in Boston for 4 months now. I started out as a terminally differentiated 2nd year medical student. And, over the course of months have been reprogrammed into a person capable of becoming something slightly different. At the end of this year, I know that I am not going to be quite the same person. But, unlike my red cell progenitors, coaxed along a certain path of differentiation with the right cytokines, my microenvironment is so varied and exciting.

Let me tell you about my microenvironment of late.

We had the HHMI kick off meeting which really got me excited about this process again! I am one of the regional co-chairs for HHMI (Boston region) so I helped plan the meeting with 3 other fellas. We heard from physician-scientists at different stages of their careers, practiced distilling our science message for different audiences, and even did some improvisatory speaking (Felt like we were on Who’s Line is It Anyway). The keynote speaker was an infectious disease specialist named Bruce Walker. He’s done a lot of really amazing stuff in HIV research as well as treatment/support programs for women in South Africa. He is also a CWRU SOM alumnus! What I found really interesting about his work is the ethics of using a population to advance one’s understanding of science. In a way, in answering a scientific question, you can benefit from another’s capacity for misfortune. Therefore, I think it’s imperative, to give back to that population. If you publish in Science but the subjects keep on dying miserably from HIV, something is really wrong with what you are doing. Dr. Walker was aware of this, and I think that is amazing.

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My fellow co-chairs and the amazing Med-Fellows Program director
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Howard Hughes. I need to watch the Aviator. Thanks, for being wealthy and philanthropic, and having an unclear will so I can have a salary today. Much appreciated.

My PI submitted a proposal for more funding for sickle cell research to the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. The proposal was essentially my HHMI proposal, and it was accepted! It felt great to get that news from him, because I really felt some ownership of the project. In science we build upon what has been done before us. And, I know so much work has been done before I came here, but it’s exciting to be a part of this process. This week, I and some of my lab mentors are going to share some of the work done on this project/goals for the project with some of our funders.

The flow cytometer (LSR Fortessa for those curious) used to be my enemy but it is slowly becoming my friend.

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Research has been challenging and such a privilege. It was wonderful to meet the other HHMI fellows at the kick-off meeting and to see the impact of HHMI on the career trajectory of so many people. It seems both significant and positive! It was also intriguing to see that about a third of the HHMI fellows are women. In comparison to my medical school class (slight majority women), it is a real difference. While women are gaining access to more spheres of influence, female physician scientists are definitely a minority. Something to take notice of and to think on…

Whenever I start feeling down about this process, I am encouraged to remember how blessed I am to have this opportunity. Like a few days ago! I got to practice doing some intrafemoral bone marrow injections in some mice! It was so exciting. This is what I am here to do–to learn as much as possible. Perhaps I miss interacting with with mammals…!

Other happenings: went to Boston Symphony! Brahms Requiem was AMAZING. The second movement is my favorite. I really wonder if John Williams was inspired by this while scoring Star Wars…especially the first theme. So haunting. Just thinking of the expansive and ominous Empire. Yet it is later mixed in with a sense of hope. (side note, if you haven’t seen the new Rogue One trailer do that now!) I also saw Thomas Hampson again! Last winter, I saw him and Renee Fleming in the Merry Widow at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Apparently, Hampson made his debut at the Boston Symphony Orchestra singing this very same piece. Witnessed a little bit of history that night thanks to my housemate, Snowy and her HMS perks!

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Boston Children’s Hospital on a rainy Sunday! Went in briefly on the weekend.

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I also visited the Museum of Fine Art on Wednesday! It’s free after 4 pm, and I know I have to go back. Didn’t even see any European art. I was able to see some of the Benin Bronzes which is always a bit exciting for me–seeing art that is appreciated and a part of my culture.

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A Benin Bronze
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NIGERIA

There is so much more for me to explore inside and outside the lab for the next 2/3 of my stay in Boston. Time is flying. Goals as of now: to see La Boheme at the Met and visit the Museum of African American History in DC.

That’s the microenvironment for now.

We are all differentiating into something, and sometimes the hard part is figuring out exactly what that is. Look up and look out. What and who do you surround yourself with?  What is shaping you at this moment? I hope it is something you love or can love.

Until next time.

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