Deep within my convex mirror

I think its normal to reflect on one's life at about this point in time. A few months after graduation, this is the first time that I am not matriculating at this time in the year since I was 3 years old. I
am sitting in on a couple phD biophysics courses here and there which have been keeping the brain more than adequately stimulated. That, however, is not relevant to the point I'm making which is that I have beendoing my fair share of reflecting. You could say that I stand here in front of a convex mirror, making myself appear diminished in this large distorted world.
I am not in 'real life' like many of my recently graduated peers. I am not permanently living in a city and waking up every morning, making my way to a job which I could potentially continue throughout the course of my lifetime. I am living in a dorm room in Debrecen, waking up every morning to do science. To work on a project that I will not finish. To progress yocto meters in this infinite journey. And to do so temporarily. Although the specific point in time when my work here will be finished is not yet determined, it will come.

That isn't to say that I am not happy. I am. I am thrilled to be given an opportunity to grow and gain experience and knowledge, and more thrilled to know that I am not obliged to stay here for more than I want to. I enjoy being humbled daily by brilliant scientists, and being befuddled by this puzzle they call cancer. I enjoy thinking about cells, protein interactions, and DNA... at least for the time being.

So, I reflect. I try to figure out where I am, where I'm going, where I want to be going, and how I'm going to get there. I feel very fortunate to have goals in life. Though sometimes they don't feel worth striving for, my goals in life aren't going anywhere. I know where I want to be and how I want to be living. With time, I will be there.




So, as you probably know, humans inhabit a planet, which exists in a solar system, which orbits a star, which is a tiny spec within one of billions of galaxies in our universe. Don't believe me? Then check this out...

And, what makes a human a human? It is something that lies within our genome. And what is a genome? Well, its a bit complicated, but if you have a spare 3 minutes and 33 seconds, this lady introduces it fairly well, and with a soothing voice nonetheless...

Why in the hell should you care about human genetics? Well, you probably shouldn't. But I do. Whether we like it or not, as this lady told you, our genes ultimately control everything in our lives through the synthesis and expression of proteins.

In our ~ 6 feet of DNA, there are about 30,000 genes. That may sound like a lot of genes, but it isn't... a grain of rice has 45,000 genes. Out of the 3 billion base pairs in our chromosomes, only about 1-2% of them code for our genes. That means there is a lot of 'junk' in our genome. Junk that makes things more complex, more confusing, and probably more susceptible to becoming mutated.

What is a genetic mutation? And how can such a thing occur? It is simply a change in the sequence of your DNA base pairs from normal. Since our cells are continuously dividing to produce new cells, our DNA is being replicated as well. A mistake in DNA replication can result in a mutation. A mistake can be completely spontaneous, or it can result from stress put on the cell, or it can result from a 'carcinogen.' 99.99% of the time a mutation within our DNA will go completely unnoticed, that is to say it will not effect the structure or function of its' protein product. However, on the rare occurrence that the structure of the protein is modified, even by a simple swap of one amino acid for another, serious consequences can occur (i.e. cancer).

If you are still with me... Bravo. That must mean that you and I are doing a good job of understanding and explaining respectively. Now, maybe I can explain my 'project' here at Debreceni Egyetem.

ErbB2, one of our ~30,000 genes, is involved in (some types) of cancer. From a large, comprehensive collection of clinical data from patients with glioblastomas (most common and deadly primary brain tumor), it was found that this protein was found to be mutated in 7 out of ~450 patients (most likely along with a number of other genes). With todays technology, precise information about the mutated gene could be gathered about the gene such as which chromosome, EXACTLY where on the chromosome, and how the amino acid sequence was altered. It turns out that the gene of interest was identically mutated in 2 of these 7 patients.
Through further research and reading that I have done within the literature, this specific mutation seems worthy of further experimentation. Therefore, my plan of action is to recreate this specific mutation within brain cells in order to conduct further experiments and hopefully collect data that can help identify how this protein affects the glioblastoma tumorgenesis.

Yea, I know this is a pathetic attempt to understand cancer the slightest amount more than we do. The insignificance of my impact in the world of cancer research made me think of the insignificance of the human race within the universe. I don't know which is more likely... earth being the only spec within the universe with life, or ErbB2 playing a definitive role in glioblsastoma tumorgenesis?



Sup Freshman!?

Am I the cool, older, experienced dude....? Or, am I the creepy, older, loser dude?

Life of a medical student here in Debrecen, is a bit different than how it is in the U.S... I think. I of course am not a medical student neither here, nor there. Medical school here is huge. I would almost go as far as comparing it to the Eller business school at the UofA. Most students begin medical school immediately after they finish high school, and admission into the program is far less competitive than in the U.S. There are 600 first year students. 300 Hungarian students, and 300 international students. Only about 50% of those first year students will continue on with their second year of medical school, and I assume the numbers continue to dwindle as they progress through the 6 year program. It is quite easy to explain the high rate of failure in medical school here. These 'kids' are too young to be starting an intense educational program such as studying medicine, regardless of how big their aspirations are and how serious their dedication is. They are freshman... I met a kid who just turned 18 LAST WEEK and if all goes as planned, he will be a physician when he is 23. Sure he was a cool guy and I'm sure smart enough to get through the books, but that is still frightening to me.

Hanging out with these guys has allowed me to realize just how thankful I am for my education experience thus far. Nope, I can no longer name the 206 bones in the human body or list the source and target of all the digestive enzymes. BUT, one thing that a bachelors degree did do for me was allow my immature mind and self to develop and settle to be where it is today without added disturbances of the 'real world.' A process that these kids are forced to rush through as they attend professional school.

The question, however, remains. The reactions of the Korean, Norwegian, Japanese, French, Pakistani, English, Swedish, German and Hungarian students that I have met so far lead me to think that I am the cool, older, experienced dude. But in my mind, I'm not too sure.



Dream on.

I know that there is an entire field of science geared towards studying what the brain does when your body is unconscious. I think the term we use to describe such experiences is dream?

I don't know much about this topic, mainly because I have not had much personal experience with dreams. On the rare occurrence that I wake up with thoughts, images, or sensations from my sleep, I can just about say that they are always unfortunately forgotten by the time I get out of bed. I know that sometimes people have nightmares that haunt their dreams for years, but even so, I was always a bit bummed out by the lack of dreams in my life, good or bad. That has changed relatively recently, upon moving to my new home in Hungary.

These changes in my subconscious brain activity could have been sparked by a number of things, as my life is far from what it used to be. I am living abroad for the first time in my life, I am living alone for the first time in my life, I am spending a lot more time by myself than I have before, and I am spending a lot more time reading, thinking and stimulating my brain. Maybe I'll start keeping track of my dreams in a bedside notebook.

In other news, after a brief hiatus from the world of creative art, I have purchased watercolors, paintbrushes, and paper from my local SPAR superstore.



Acclimation Proclamation

So, I guess you could say that I am acclimating to the culture. I spent Saturday night at a sweet little hostel in central Budapest and got a taste of the nightlife. I went to a centrally located spot where there were local jazz bands playing... (the violinist in the picture below was amazing, and BLIND). I met some cool people and had a great time.
Everyone I talked to was surprised that I ventured out at night alone in a foreign country, not to mention move to a foreign country to work. I guess I am officially an adventurous person.

Over the course of Saturday and Sunday in Budapest, I probably put a solid 25 miles on the old walkin' shoes. I arrived via train and left via train, but my feet were the only mode of transportation that I used while in the city.
I got lost and I saw a lot. First, I zigzagged all over the place looking for a map. Then the zigzags turned into circles. But, with getting so turned around and covering so much ground, I now feel that I know my way around this place.
I passed up pizza and beer for a gyro and water... My standards for both pizza and beer were set far too high in Tucson to be let down by Hungary's attempt.
In other news, when I was in line at the market this morning back in Debrecen, I was straight up cut by a man. That's right CUT... as in "no cuts, no butts, no coconuts." I don't know if this man thought his time was more valuable than mine (even though it probably is), but I was disgusted. If only you could have seen that blatancy of this man's act. I wasn't sure if I should chuckle at the guy, or give him a nice little nudge, so I did neither. Only stared with disgust. I hope such rudeness isn't a normality in this country.

This week marks the commencement of my research project. As nerdy as it may sound... I am very much looking forward to it.

BA - out


me and my gazelle

Settling into Debrecen has seemed like a constant panic to find a bicycle. I feel like without a bicycle, I can do nothing. But with a bicycle, I can do everything. Of course this is not exactly the case, but being without a bicycle does extremely limit what I can do and where I can go. Plus, it plays a role on me psychologically by making me a bit depressed.

Its hard to look in any one direction in this city without seeing someone riding a bike. Where were all of these bikes coming from!? I tried all of the 2 bike shops that I heard about in this town, and no used market. I tried a Hungarian craigslist-esq website, which was promising, but figuring out what the hell I was doing and communicating with people was a failure... ( With the help of google translate, I told one guy that I would come by his place at 3:00PM to check out a bike. 3 text messages and 2 hours later, I hear back "no Debrecen today"... WTF, mate! )

Finally, I approach the local BMX gang... talk about desperation. They point me in the direction of another shop. This shop was legit. Yes, they sold a bunch of crap, but the owner was super friendly. I got a used bike just like I was looking for.
It's a Gazelle. An old bike (circa 1950s ?) from the Netherlands... pretty bad ass! The price wasn't too bad... 15,000 HUF ($67) which included a U-lock.
O ya... and that front light is a real, working dynamo! With the flip of a switch, when the front wheel turns, it lights up!

So that bike shop was also a ski/snowboard shop and the owner organizes tours to surrounding ski resorts around Europe. He invited me to tag along for dirt cheap. Looks like I might already have some winter plans.

BA - out