Thursday, November 19, 2009

My Professor's Sad Story

I'm taking physiology from Dr. Rhees this semester. It is a really interesting class. I think it's the most interesting class I've taken at BYU. It's pretty competitive because everyone in the class is trying to get an A to be accepted to either the nursing program or medical school. I just need to get at least a C-. So I'm not too stressed about it. I just enjoy it.

Anyway, we are the endocrine system now, which is the system where hormones are secreted in the blood (like from the pituitary gland or he adrenal gland). This is my professor's favorite subject because this is what his doctorate research was about when he did it in the 1970's. He's been teaching this class for decades. It's the only class he teaches.

He talked about his doctorate research for a while and told this sad story:

He wanted to research the hormones that come back to the brain to inhibit the release of more hormones but didn't know how he could do that. Then some researchers found a way how to make the hormone radioactive and this made my professor really excited. So he found about 20 ducks and injected them with this radioactive hormone. 30 minutes later he cut off their heads and opened their skulls and removed their entire brain, being careful not to crush it. His plan was to see where the radioactive hormone was in the brain so that he knew where that hormone's receptors were. After removing the brain, he immediately placed it in aluminum foil and then put it in liquid nitrogen to freeze it solid. He then had to take the 20 brains and take them to a special lab. In this lab it is freezing cold. He had to wear clothes that Antarctic explorers wear. There he sliced the brains to be very thin and placed the slices on glass slides that were dipped in one of those solutions used to develop photographs. Because of this, he had to work only in the red light used in dark rooms. He did this every day for six weeks. Finally, when he was done, he placed in in a container and put in in a fridge and had to wait a year until the radioactivity killed enough cells to make it visible. Let me say that again: he had to wait a year. After the year was up, he took out the container and found that all of the brain samples has slipped off the glass slides and formed a nasty soup. It was totally wasted. He called some specialists to see what he did wrong (turns out you need to heat the glass slides up before you put the brains on it). He then decided to do the whole thing over again. So he got 20 more ducks and repeated the whole process and waited an entire year. He was worried that he would be spending the next 10 years of his life working on his PhD. Anyway, at the end of the year, he opened up the container and it worked! He found the spot where the hormone grouped (which was a very unusual place in the brain, a new breakthrough in science) and wrote his research up and was about to submit when a man on the other side of the country submitted his research on the same subject 3 weeks before my professor could. This other guy became quite famous in the endocrinology field and to work in a really prestigious lab which enabled him to publish more than 200 articles. My professor was heart broken. If only his samples worked the first year, he could have had this other guy's opportunities.

Anyway, I thought that this was an interesting story. It seems kind of typical of most people's lives: so close to fame, but content where they ended up in life.


Lisa Lou said...

That's definately a story I was not expecting. But it is sad. Sad all around, ducks included.

Katie said...

I'm with Lisa. Especially for the ducks. Also, I like what you said at the end about that being the way most people's lives end up. I think it's true and sweet. After all, better to have a good life filled with family and love than a famous life. I think very few people in this life enjoy both. Although you didn't really say what kind of life your professor has, so who knows. Perhaps he would have been better off the other way?

P.S. Brings a much deeper meaning to "the dead duck day."