"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" ~ Mary Oliver

Tag: melanoma

inch by little inch . . . on a massive scale

After fifteen months of dormancy, tiny sprouts appeared on June 15, 2016.

After fifteen months of dormancy, tiny sprouts appeared on June 15, 2016.

Neuroscience is the underdeveloped frontier of medicine. While it has taken decades for new therapies such as targeted immunological approaches to treat melanoma and other cancers, there has been virtually no progress in understanding neurological diseases such as Alzheimers, Parkinson’s disease, Multiple Sclerosis or ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease.)

Why is that, I’ve often wondered? With the billions of dollars spent on research throughout the world every year, why has medical progress been so slow for so long?

Then a popular craze comes along spurred by celebrity participation – such as the ice-bucket phenomenom that raised $100 million dollars in 2014 for ALS research. How many participated? And how many clucked their tongues thinking it was a waste of time and money? It was easy to do and nobody thought much more about it afterwards.

Well, guess what? With some of that ice-bucket money, they’ve discovered a new gene involved in 3% of ALS patients, both inherited and spontaneous. That may sound like a small thing but it has the potential to lead to new treatments. What was compelling to me is that it took research done at EIGHTY labs in ELEVEN countries throughout the world for this discovery to happen.

Maybe that’s what breakthroughs in medical science require: MUCH BIGGER SCALE. That is, maybe people have underestimated all this time what’s required to make miniscule progress and that “it takes (more than) a village” to make progress or to solve problems facing mankind.

This is exactly the opposite of “divide and conquer” – the ugly and selfish politics of Donald Trump.

Rather, even people working together at a small scale is not enough – but working together at a much more massive scale in the world and cooperating together – is what the world really requires if we are to make any progress at all to solve mysteries of science and medicine that would benefit everyone.

So you can think small and build walls to keep people out or, what? Can societies who have such different self-interests band together at a new scale in order to make progress? What a concept! It’s taken a FAD like an ice-bucket challenge to reap a tiny new breakthrough in ALS. But the real take-home message is much more significant: we are stronger working together than we are apart. And we should be doing it at a much larger scale in order to make breakthroughs that we all need.


P.S.  After this post was published, it occurred to me that the reason science makes such slow progress is due to the enmired secrecy culture of scientists – who hoard their own work so no one else will get credit for it. Things may be evolving now for larger consortiums to work together on scientific problems – but the old “I’m going to win a Nobel Prize” syndrome is still pretty entrenched with researchers that I’ve known for a long time.

40 days later, leaves and shoots photo taken on July 25, 2016

40 days later, leaves and shoots photo taken on July 25, 2016


christmas spirit . . . alive and well!

christmas goose cookieOn Tuesday, I had a chance to have lunch with a friend whom I’ve known since junior high school back in Virginia. It was the first time I’d seen him in a few months, the last time when I brought him sushi to his house while he was recovering from radiation and immunotherapy treatments for Stage IV melanoma that had metastisized to tumors in his brain.

Now, just a few months later, he looked light and uplifted with a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye that I had not seen for years, even before he became so terminally ill, it seemed. We had a relaxing lunch at my favorite Japanese restaurant in Northampton, MA. where the manager of the restaurant offered us desserts, compliments of the house! We had each feared that he might not make it to Christmas this year – but instead, he seems so stabilized and recovered that he drove himself to Virginia for a Thanksgiving visit with his family just a couple of weeks ago.

Former President Jimmy Carter has made a similarly remarkable recovery from melanoma and tumors in his brain as well in just a few short months. So, with the combined radiation and especially the novel immunotherapy treatments that have evolved in recent years, one cancer, at least, seems to be treatable. It has been glacially slow for progress like this to be made on other forms of the disease, especially ovarian cancer which is still impossible to detect early enough to do much about it.

So, we are celebrating Christmas this year with a light heart and gratitude for small and big miracles. I’d say this one was pretty big though, wouldn’t you?

Merry Christmas everybody!