This week’s sciku takes me back 20 years to my job as a group home counselor. We were trying to help adults with schizophrenia manage their lives and illnesses more independently, but the medication, which was so necessary, also made it difficult.
Antipsychotic medication needs cross the blood-brain barrier to work, but when you swallow a pill, only a small fraction makes it through. As a result, the effective dose is much larger than it would be otherwise, leading to very unpleasant side effects—from weight gain and fatigue to diabetes and eventually organ toxicity. Many patients had to take multiple drugs hoping to counteract the side-effects. And once they found a combination that worked, it would only last a while before they had to start over with an entirely new regimen due to the accumulating toxicity. It was rough—but still better than the hell of psychosis.
So I was thrilled to learn that researchers at McMaster University have developed a nasal spray using extremely fine particles of corn starch to deliver antipsychotic medication more directly into the brain, sneaking it through a hidden door along the olfactory nerve. The corn starch breaks down into simple sugar, but gradually, allowing it to be time-released with a 75% lower effective dose. Instead of taking medication multiple times each day, patients will only have to use a nasal spray once every three days, with far fewer side effects. The difference this will make for people’s quality of life is huge.
And that’s what I love about reading science news. Unlike what we call “The News,” where negativity bias is exploited for clicks, science incentivizes the good—it’s mostly mysteries solved, problems fixed, new questions to ponder. And there’s something new every week. This time with a bonus one-liner.
the men line up
for their meds
more drizzle than mist refilling the pill box
Good news to start the new year from the Wistar Institute, where scientists have developed a novel approach for fighting antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The new class of antibiotics, IspH inhibitors, use a double-pronged strategy, killing bacteria while also flagging them to be targeted by the immune system’s cytotoxic T cells—like a fleeing bank robber covered in red dye. That way, if any of individual bacterium evolve to resist to the antibiotic, they’ll be hunted down by the body’s immune system before they can escape and become a new resistant strain.
“The end of antibiotics” has been touted as a looming crisis since I was in grade school, but this is why I’ve never been very worried about it. As an organizational system, human society is very good at incentivizing and so solving slow-moving problems. As problems become worse, the rewards for solving them become bigger, and we’re a very clever species. What we don’t do well is move quickly or incentivize responsibility, so the real crises are usually shocks and sudden collapses. When it comes to civilization’s future, I worry about viruses and CMEs and the petrodollar, but not things like this. We’re good at solving problems when they arrive gradually.
This week’s tiny sciku winds this into a little knot, with a nod towards our New Year’s resolutions.
This week’s #sciku is more of a senryū. NIH researchers were able to isolate “nanobodies” against SARS-Cov-2 in a llama named Cormac. The immune systems of camelids produce unusually tiny antibodies, about a tenth the size of our own. Basically these are just the binding domain that sticks to the virus and not the tail that flags it for the rest of the immune system. Because these nanobodies are so small, they’re easy to synthesize and can be aerosolized in a nasal spray.
It would need be tested (extensively, in my opinion), but in theory we could inhale a squirt before higher-risk activities (like holiday dinners) to create a temporary barrier in our nose and lungs against becoming infected.
When I was a kid, my grandmother’s house backed up to a zoo. After holiday dinners, all the kids would go down the hill, cross some railroad tracks, and look at the animals from the back of their enclosures. The closest were the llamas, and they’d chase us as we ran back and forth along the fence, until they’d finally become annoyed enough to start spitting. PETA would not approve, but we were kids, and it was fun.
The third layer to this little senryū, I should say, doesn’t apply to my family now—we all get along just fine!
the angry llama spray—
I’m thinking about radically changing this blog. I like writing, but I don’t like blogging. I’ve done my due diligence, trying to come up with things to post about, and I just don’t really care what I have to say, at least when it comes to poetry and editing. And I think it shows. More and more it shows, as more and more I come to the realization that I just don’t care. And if I don’t care why would you care? Do you care? Would anyone be heartbroken if I deleted all 233 posts I’ve made so far and turned this into a travel log of my trips between the office, the grocery store, and the garbage disposal? Honk if you’re horny, I guess. I’m not.
Harvey Goldner passed away last week, from cancer at 65. I didn’t know him very well, but we published a poem of his last summer. The Seattle P-I has written a nice obiturary for him — he drove a taxi a few nights a week to pay for his room at a boarding house, and dedicated the rest of his life to poetry. There’s a simple beauty to that, at least in mind mind, and I hope it was as fulfilling for Harvey as it is in my imagination.
His poem from issue #25, “War and Peace,” is one that I still think of often, and so fits my definition of greatness. Perhaps like Goldner himself, it’s playful and important at the same time. He will be missed, but a body of work worth reading remains.
WAR AND PEACE
Big bombs fell out of the
sky. Big bombs fell all over
the countryside. Chickens died,
some cows, a few lucky people
from down the road. Then the war,
the exhilaration, was over.
A new tax collector came by–
different uniform, same fishy
eyes. The craters made by the
bombs filled with rainwater.
Kids played in the bomb ponds
until Cousin Bob, the smart one,
came back from the big city
and taught us how to raise
catfish in the bomb ponds.
His lovely wife, Bobette,
gave us a dynamite
recipe for hushpuppies.
Now, when the new tax collector
(different uniform, same fishy
eyes) comes by on the first of
every month to collect, we
have a party–all the catfish
and hushpuppies you can eat.
So far, he hasn’t gotten too
greedy, not yet. But if he does,
Aunt Mary, the ancient one,
still has left some of the
good poison which she
murdered the last one