Who am I and why am I here?

August 12, 2009

By Jennifer Phillips, Ph.D.

Greetings to all, and a big thank you to Mark for inviting me to contribute to his Usher Syndrome Blog. My name is Jennifer Phillips, and I am a research biologist specializing in molecular cell biology of Usher syndrome. I spend my days in a laboratory, transferring various things into little tubes, peering through microscopes, and thinking about how genes and proteins work inside living cells.

A picture of a scientist with chemicals

Figure 1: Colorful liquids + Laboratory attire = Scientist in Action!
Aside from the fact that I seldom wear bowties, my own lab environment is quite similar to the one pictured here.

I am no one of particular importance. I am a miniscule cog in the giant mechanism of academic research science, and I'm ok with that because sharing the workload in this complementary yet orchestrated way is a crucial part of scientific advancement. The highly specialized nature of my work requires that I focus on a very small part of the big picture, but there is plenty of interesting and potentially significant work to be done in my tiny domain, and I hope to share some of this with you in the future.

Although I am acquainted with some young adults with Usher syndrome, I am quite far removed from the day-to-day realities of this disease in my professional realm. It is thus extremely beneficial for me to interact with the physicians, clinical researchers, patients and families who do deal with Usher syndrome on a personal, human level. I have gained much from these interactions and occasional collaborations, and by contributing to this blog I hope to give back a little to those from whom I have learned so much.

One of the frustrations that Mark has so eloquently expressed in this forum is over the current limitations of medical options for treating Usher syndrome. There are many fine ophthalmologists and audiologists out there who are providing the best available care, but the unfortunate truth is that treatments for Usher syndrome are not yet available, and the short answer for why this is the case is that we still lack the necessary information and/or techniques to create effective therapies or interventions. I fully appreciate how challenging it must be to face the effects of this disease knowing that medical science has yet to find the answers that really matter to you. It is for this reason that I hope my contributions to this blog will provide an additional source of encouragement by increasing your awareness of the breadth of research going on around the world that is contributing to our collective understanding of Usher syndrome and may aid in the discovery of new therapeutic applications.

Waxing expansive on the particulars of my job tends to be a total conversation-stopper at parties, and while it's easier on my ego to attribute this phenomenon to a lack of shared knowledge or interest rather than poor social skills on my part (not that these are mutually exclusive conditions), I plan to apply this real life cautionary tale to my blogging efforts. In reporting scientific research findings relevant to Usher syndrome, I promise not to use scientific jargon without explanation, and to focus on delivering the main ideas without getting hung up on the details. Finally, although the aforementioned lack of shared knowledge or interest may initially present an obstacle in communicating the salient aspects of basic research and its connection to things that non-scientists care about, I don't believe this is insurmountable. Knowledge can be conveyed, and if it's done so in a sufficiently engaging way, interest will follow. To that end, I welcome and encourage questions, requests for clarity, more (or less) information, or coverage of different topics, so please don't be shy about commenting!

So, that's who I am and why I'm here. In my next post, I'll attempt to provide a frame of reference for the different types of research that are conducted in our current system, and explain a bit about the flow of information between scientific discoveries and the application of those discoveries to human medicine.

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