Tuesday, November 23, 2010


"In school you learn lots of things. You learn how to read and write. You learn about the world. You learn how to care for yourself and others. When you care for others, there is peace."

From 7-year-old Cassie Eng who collected 34,002 pennies in the Pennies for Peace project at her birthday party.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Subtle ... but Significant

I learn a subtle but significant way to refer to people from the book "The Soloist".

Nathaniel, the main character in the book, is not a mentally ill musician but a musician with mental illness.

"It's a subtle but significant difference, recognizing the person before the condition."

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Today's thought

Today's thought is inspired by what I read in the book "The Soloist":

"Do not worry about far-off future. Just get off the street safely and be thankful. Honor your mother and father. Don't be disrespectful to people, be good and maybe life will take care of itself."

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Third story from Henrietta Lacks

The story of her cell, HeLa cell, is remarkable in science history. Her cell is a big part of several scientific discoveries and new drugs that cure diseases and save lives. Some of these discoveries include drugs for treating leukemia, influenza, and Parkinson's disease, among others.

However, these scientific triumphs come with tremendous personal cost to her family. It creates confusion, anger, and sadness among her children when the woman behind the cell has not received the honor that she deserves. More important, when pharmaceutical companies and labs make money off Hela cells, her family lives in poverty and cannot afford health insurance.

How can the medical field let this happen?

Second story from Ted Slavin

In the 1970s, Ted Slavin who was born a hemophiliac was exposed to the hepatitis B virus from donor blood many times over. However, he never knew it until much later that he has extremely high concentrations of hepatitis B antibodies.

Here is where Slavin's story departs from Moore's story. Slavin's doctor "told him that his body is producing something extremely valuable (Skloot, 2010, p .202)." This is because pharmaceutical companies were willing to pay high amount of money for a supply of antibodies to produce a vaccine for Hepatitis B.

Slavin contacted laboratories and pharmaceutical companies and several of them are interested in buying his antibodies. His intention is for someone to cure Hepatitis B.

He wrote a letter to Nobel-prize winning virologist, Baruch Blumberg, and offered him unlimited free use of his blood for research. This is a critical event. Slavin and Blumberg had a years-long partnership. Eventually, Blumberg found the link between Hepatitis B and liver cancer. He succeeded at creating the first hepatitis B.

Later, Slavin recruited other people and started a company, Essential Biologicals.

There are many critical events in Slavin's story that make the turns of the events very different from Moore's story. Part of it is because his doctor is truthful and honest with him.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Three powerful stories of science, ethics, moral, and humanity

I am reading a book with a title "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" by Rebecca Skloot. I want to share three human stories from this book. Let's start with the first story of John Moore.

At the age of thirty-one, John Moore had hairy-cell leukemia, which is a rare and deadly cancer that filled his spleen with malignant blood cells. He was treated by a prominent cancer researcher, Dr. David Golde, at UCLA. The doctor removed his spleen and asked him to visit UCLA for follow-up exams. By that time, he already moved to Seattle and he had to fly to L.A. for these appointments. So, he thought about visiting a doctor in Seattle instead of making frequent trips to L.A. This is when the story unfolds.

"When Moore told Golde he wanted to start doing his follow-ups closer to home, Golde offered to pay for the plane tickets and put him up in style at the Beverly Wilshire."

Of course, Moore thinks that is strange. Until one day, a nurse gave him a new consent form to sign. He circled "do" to voluntarily grant the university all rights in his cell line and any other potential product might be developed from his blood or bone marrow. On his next visit, he changed his mind and now he circled "do not". Golde called him twice asking him to come back to change his consent form. They also mailed the form to his home with a sticky note "circle I do".

Moore then sent the form to a lawyer who discovered that Golde has been developing and marketing a cell line called Mo.

Moore said "It was very dehumanizing to be thought of as Mo, to be referred to as Mo in the medical records: Saw Mo today. All of a sudden I was not the person Golde was putting his arm around, I was Mo, I was the cell line, like a piece of meat."

To make a long story short, Moore's cells are valuable because they produce rare proteins that could be used to treat infections and cancer. They also carried a rare virus that can potentially be used to develop vaccine for HIV.

Moore's case went up to the Supreme Court of California. At the end, he lost his case. The Supreme Court argued that "when tissues are removed from your body, with or without your consent, any claim you might have had to owning them vanishes. When you leave tissues in a doctor's office or a lab, you abandon them as a waste, any anyone can take your garbage and sell it."

Do we need to take advantage of people for the advancement of science?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Body is physically here .... Mind is in cyberspace

NPR had an article with a title "And iPhone makes three: Marriage in the digital age". In particular, the argument at the heart of the married couples in the story has to do with "a spouse whose body may be right there but whose mind is off in cyberspace".

I can't help but wonder how this affects our quality of relationships and well-being.

Monday, November 1, 2010

U.S. secure border initiative network

According to the recent article in the New York Times, it looks like the virtual fence project under the Department of Homeland Security is much likely to fail. The project was originally estimated at $7.6 billion. The work by Boeing is to put up a series of towers and sensors to spot trepassers along the 2,000 miles of U.S. border.

So far, with $1 billion spent, we have less than 50 miles of these virtual fence done. Oh well...