Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Programmed Cell Death

I know education is a unique experience for everyone, but for me, I LOVE being in school. It keeps me stimulated and challenged, which is something that I think goes away when we start working, sometimes even if you work in a challenging environment. A part of me died a little when I graduated and started working full time. Honestly, it took me a long time to adjust to not having to study, and to all the free time I suddenly had (I can read for fun? Psh! Yeah, okay pal. Whatever you say.).

It effected me so strongly that I've found myself desperately searching for classes to take for free online. We live in an amazing time where education is starting to become more available, and I think everyone should take advantage of it. There are sites like Coursera and EdX, that both have a number of scientific classes (some of which overlap) that are taught by leading professors and professionals from major universities... and it's all FREE.

I'm plugging these websites because I recently published a paper, and when I posted the abstract on facebook for my family and friends to read, if they wished (ok fine, it was to brag, whatever.), I found a number of people actually saying "Wow, cool, but I don't understand it", which, to be terribly honest, really bugged me. I've found that the trend among my peers is to veer away from scientific literature, and instead, read articles that are easier to digest (things on huffington post, reddit, etc.). The truly sad thing about this is that most people just don't believe in themselves enough to try and read these scientific articles. They don't want to put in the effort to look up words that they don't understand, or concepts that are foreign to them.

Sure, I'm a bit hypocritical because I use this blog to make the science of diseases fun and interesting to my peers. But the way I see it, these posts should be the gateway to higher learning. Reading only minor articles that skip over some of the most important facts in a study or paper and ignoring the true publications is like subsiding only on 100-calorie snack bags instead of entire meals.

With that being said, I've really jumped into these sites because I think it's important to keep learning. One of my favorite courses that I've taken so far was Programmed Cell Death taught by Dr. Barbara Conradt at LMU.

In 6 weeks, Dr. Conradt simply explains the pathways involved in apoptosis, which is a process practically all living organisms rely on. Apoptosis is the way our body destroys infected or diseased cells, avoids tumorigenesis (the development of tumors via uncontrolled cell proliferation), and controls tissue and system development. While it's used ubiquitously throughout living systems, my favorite use is in our immune systems. Without apoptosis, our bodies wouldn't be able to stop the proliferation of infectious diseases that take over our immune system. Without apoptosis, some viruses and chronic diseases wouldn't be able to evade our immune system responses. Really, it's quite fascinating.

Towards the end of the course, she posted a link to a video (imbedded below for your viewing pleasure) that summarizes the actions of apoptosis (aka Programmed Cell Death) in a little over 4 minutes. The only words used are labels, and the entire video is a computer animation of the steps our bodies take to destroy diseased cells.

This is what I love about science. You might skip the video (if you do, you are really missing out), or you might watch it, but either way, apoptosis is happening inside of you RIGHT NOW. Sure, studying pathways can be tedious, and is not for everyone, but this video summarizes it beautifully. The soundtrack is perfectly eerie, as well.

My point is, when I see things like this video, I know I'm in the right field. It weirds me out that apoptosis is occuring inside of me while I watch the video explaining it, but it also fascinates me. It makes me want to learn even more. I don't know, maybe I'm crazy.

So, without further rambling, here is "Apoptosis" by The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research.

Side note: I apologize for the absence of my posts lately. I've been completely consumed with work, publishing the paper I mentioned, presenting it at an international conference, and also I'm getting married in 2 months. Please excuse my absence.