July 2, 2013

Part IV: A little discussion with Ciechanover and a trip to the casino, I mean, “Applied Statistics Laboratory”

Tuesday evening, 2 July 2013

From the earlier post, What does it mean to be Human, I wrote a bit about the social impacts and public perceptions that we scientists need to consider when personalized medicine becomes widespread, which is within years or less. That is precisely what Ciechanover discussed. Empowered by my nap earlier, I was driven to ask Ciechanover a question that has been on my mind for a while. Just as I raise my hand, and piercingly make eye contact with “Professor Aaron,” he says, “Ok, one last question.” And someone sitting right in front of me, who happens to be a graduate student at Cambridge (UK) also has their hand up. Professor Aaron recommended that we flip a coin to decide. I countered that we play rock-paper-scissor, and since I am unbeatable, I got to ask the question (scissors, by the way). I asked about the way forward for treating disease in light of new science: since cells, especially our own, are such complex networks of interacting proteins producing a spectrum of phenotypes, or diseases, is our current paradigm of controlling protein function by drugging it directly better than controlling protein function by editing the gene that encodes it? My goal was to convey the importance of thinking about treating diseases in new ways, like genome editing, in addition to just drugging the protein that correlates with a particular a phenotype.

Afterwards, I had a break to decompress my thoughts, jot them down, and wander around Lindau with my roommate AJ. We ended up at Lindau Harbor for some ice cream and spontaneous smiling and wonderment. I got a bit of writing done, too.

The final event for the day was the US delegation’s dinner at the Lindau Casino, I mean, Applied Statistics Laboratory. At my table on the patio, some of the US’s brightest drank wine and beer and laughed, really, really loud. At one point, Alisha had the whole table gasping for air, “Tyrone, you had one job to do!” Let’s just say you don’t want to be Tyrone (Guy Ritchie movie reference).

With Austrian mountains dozing in the mist, with a setting sun illuminating the most spectacular oranges and pinks onto Lake Constance, we were well. As the sky turned a darker, deeper blue, we finished our dinner, and joined within.

Robert, `Shak, Allison, and I shared timeless talks on science and life, over chilled white wine, apple strudel, and espresso. Robert snapped a righteous pic of me while I was talking to `Shak about catalysis at surfaces and what on earth the molecules were doing. I can’t wait to see how that turns out, that’ll be an awesome advance in chemistry. Then the big surprise came, or should I say, The Big Steve?

Nobel Laureate Steve Chu made a surprise visit to our little dinner. He intrepidly withstood a barrage of flashing iPhones, and one Windows phone. After spending a magnanimous amount of time with each of our seventy person delegation, the whole group went out onto the App Stat Lab lawn for a group picture. Someone yelled, “Cheese!” and I had no choice but to holler, “Obama!” which seemed by the sound of smiling laughter, to be the right thing to have done.

This is so awesome.

…kevin eduard hauser