Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Now Running: Nobel Prizes 2011 Verdict: HIT!

I'm starting to acknowledge that reading good science stories give me more of a kick than anything else. Suddenly now, I want to become a science journalist so painfully bad.
Anyway, this week was the Science Nobel week, and the Medicine and Chemistry ones have some really kickass stories behind them. PS - I've written in good english for so long in college that I'm suffocated. I'm letting loose my bad-english-monster below..


Firstly Ralph Steinman. Turns out he discovered dendritic cells! All those years I had to study Immunology, I never bothered to even remember his name till 2 days back. Anyway his story is made for an Oscar winner. So back in 1973 he discovers this type of cell in mammalian bodies called dendritic cells. Dendritic cells are a type of antigen-presenting-cell (APC) that detect and present foreign harmful substances (virus, tumours, peanuts..if you're allergic that is) to T-cells and B-cells, which terminate those pesky bastards. Steinman's allegation didn't get accepted too easily, like most important discoveries. So he had to do more and more research before it finally got the acknowledgement it deserved. Now thousands of scientists are clamouring for a piece of the pie, trying to use these dendritic cells to combat cancers, AIDS, allergic reactions etc.. So yeah, Steinman led the pack and he worked tirelessly especially against cancer.
Now the twist. In 2007, Steinman was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, the very disease he was training his dendritic cells to fight! Talk about irony..(this is one of those times that are tailormade for the usage of 'irony' though it might be wrong) Now at this point, if I were him I probably would've burst into self pitying tears and waited to die, content that people would probably remember me for those blasted cells and all. By now, you've probably guessed that Steinman was different. He decided to use this to his advantage. Say what? Ha, I'm not kidding I swear! The dude is so full of scientific spunk that he actually decides to use his own ailing body as a human guinea pig! I wonder what his wife had to say about that.. So yea does all that. Ends up living 4.5 years which is like a century compared to expected life expectancy for pancreatic cancer-diagnosed (Sorry Steve Jobs).
Now the Nobel people have a rule that they don't award dead dudes. So Steinman was really hoping to hang on till the announcement. Unfortunately he passed away 3 days before D-day. But hey, guess what happened next.. The Nobel committee screwed up. Either that or the Rockefeller University are a bunch of clever buggers! Whatever the reason, the Nobel committee were unaware of Steinman's passing till an hour after the announcement. So for the first time, a Nobel was awarded to a deceased guy. Nobel didn't ask and Rockefeller didn't say! Who can you blame really.. And hey if you ask me, Steinman deserved it a whole lot more than anyone in Big Boss is gonna deserve their cash prize, whatever it is.
What a story eh..

Now the Chemistry story which actually inspired me to finally update my blog is quite different. Not so Hollywood-esque perhaps but still pretty darn inspiring. So the winner Danny Shechtman discovered quasi crystals, which have properties thought impossible by the entire chemist community, led by double Nobel laureate Linus Pauling (of alpha helix fame.. btw his story about the race to DNA structure with Watson and Crick is damn exciting too). So Shechtman's allegation of this type of crystal was in the 80s a bit like alleging that chickens can fly to the moon. Ofcourse he had proof but it was all so overwhelming and taboo for some reason that his peers began isolating him. Uppity jerks, scientists can be sometimes! Anyway, Shechtman hung on to his beliefs doggedly, until finally word spread and chemists started thinkin that maybe.. just maybe this guy wasn't so full of shit after all.
Turned out he was right, and these quasi crystal thingies do exist (Take that Pauling!) and are pretty damn useful at that.
More than his story, it was Danny Shechtman's manner of talking that made him my favourite scientist of the day. It's so refreshing to see people genuinely excited about the work they do, and at the same time humble and oh so adorably honest. So check this video out to see if you agree.

1 comment:

  1. luvd the explanation of dendritic cells and well the rest of the post too :)

    Yours bloggingly
    Champion Blogger :p