The Crickets Upstairs
Stefan Tarnawsky Aug 28, 2016
In October, I used funds offered from the Merilyn Hester Award to attend the EWOG-MDS Symposium in Denmark. It is a conference dedicated to improving the treatment of children with blood disorders, including Juvenile Myelomonocytic Leukemia. My presentation there evoked a positive response but the comment that has indelibly etched itself in my mind came from a clinician: ‘you study mice; how do you know your work is relevant to my patients?’
This week, I made my initial analysis of a new mouse model. A senior research, an MD/PhD paediatrician was working alongside me. When he saw the data he sighed. “It looks exactly like JMML.” He would know. He treated these patients.
A slew of emotions and realizations hit me. This is it: My story. The foundation of my research project. A mouse model that could accurately mimic the disease I study. The sample size was adequate to ensure robustness. The findings are significant: asterisks appear everywhere. I’m ecstatic. And yet…
I find no time to celebrate. I’ve reached a goal but suddenly I am presented with dozens of new questions. My mind flutters between half conceived thoughts: Why is my model working now? Why did it fail before? What is the mechanism? How can I prove it? How to I reconcile my findings with those that others have previously shown? I wish I could freeze time and devote myself to finding the answers.
I must prioritize. To answer the science questions above, I must confront strategic and practical questions first. What is most relevant to patients? What is most interesting to researchers? What is most feasible given the time constrains of my program. Despite my excitement I know that I must remain calm. I must plan first, then jump into experiments. An hour’s pause could save me a week or more at the bench. For better or worse, researchers have no enforced maximum work hours and we’re readily able to take our work home.
The crickets greet me when I walk through my door. They’ve found refuge in my attic. From sunrise to sunset they sing. It’s beautiful; I wonder if they are courting. I recall there is a saying about the chirping of crickets. Something about peace and leisure? I do not know and I do not look it up. My mind is elsewhere: in blood cell development and DNA damage control and differentiation signals. The crickets sing upstairs and I dream.