South Florida Hospital News
Sunday May 26, 2019
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September 2005 - Volume 2 - Issue 3

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Summer Vacation – No Rest for the Weary Researcher

As the long Miami summer enters its final stretch, and students and parents turn their thoughts to the return of school days, it is appropriate to reflect on the progress of scientific research, and how it differs so dramatically from the academic process from which it arises. Rather than the orderly, scheduled and predictable format of an academic year, research advances through sudden thrusts and reversals, all driven by the engine of constant effort and open-minded observation. Thomas Edison was noted to observe that invention is 5% inspiration and 95% perspiration.

Certainly there are those moments when scientific discovery makes major advances. We all know so well that Sir Isaac Newton ushered in an entire era of physics with the simple observation that an apple fell from a tree. In retrospect, this is so obvious we may wonder how it could have possibly been ignored up to that point. On the other hand, we might conjecture what might have happened had he also observed that apples as they become more appropriate for eating become more accessible for eating by the loosening of those forces keeping them attached to the tree. (How does the tree know?) Or had he focused on the fact that the "falling" of the apple was the conduit for the procreation of the tree by dispersal of the seeds into the ground. (Darn smart those apple trees!)

Sometimes observations merely require the awareness of a receptive mind. Other times they require a willingness to abandon previously-held belief. Galileo got into a lot of trouble suggesting that the sun rather than the earth was the center of our cosmic world; Columbus certainly more than raised eyebrows with his contention the earth was accessibly spherical rather than flat. Both observations were actually known in other human thought systems centuries earlier, but inaccessible to the culture of the day.

Modern medicine is certainly filled with such advances, although perhaps less widely recognized. Semmelweiz lost his operating privileges when he dared to share his observation that infection in obstetrical patients could be prevented by surgeons washing their hands. At the turn of the last century, heart surgery was viewed as so impossible that it was unethical to even attempt (how could a doctor subject his patient to certain death!) Who could have predicted that bread mold would usher in the era of antibiotics, which have so dramatically affected survival that life expectancy jumped decades. Almost one half-century later, Calne’s observation that an anti-fungal antibiotic had immunosuppressive characteristics introduced cyclosporine, and with it the modern age of organ transplant.

Here at the Florida Heart Research Institute, we find the same pattern of constant effort and thorough testing, combined with an inquisitive minds is the formula for advancement. Thus, the observation that the use of bone marrow stem cells helps to improve heart function in experimental models of heart attack has led to the observation that the cells not only stimulate both native and stem cell-derived blood vessels, but also seem to stimulate the replication of native heart cells—a process which until the past few years was universally believed to be impossible. Our investigation of the use of periodic acceleration using a noninvasive motion platform has found not only the expected improvement in blood flow to vital organs, especially the heart and the brain, but a very unexpected resistance to ischemic organ damage that may have wide implications in multiple clinical settings. Our study of natriuretic peptides has begun uncovering variability in the genetic coding controlling peptide synthesis, as well as variable post-transcriptional modifications which may account for the paradox of high serum levels in the face of clinical heart failure, with retained ability to respond to exogenous peptide.

Yes the summer is long, and all minds—even scientific ones--do, from time to time, need a vacation. But it is when that vacation refreshes and rejuvenates, that we can return to the inspired toil that is scientific research.

Dr. Paul Kurlansky, board certified cardiothoracic surgeon, Director of Research at the Florida Heart Research Institute, can be reached at (305) 674-3154 or DoctorWu18@aol.com.
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