September 2nd, 2008

Tell me more....  June 2007

Personal: Talking with Students From Last Semester

Hey! Did y'all know it was Labour Day yesterday? Totally slipped my mind. No school! Of course, the dramatic advantage of that is lessened by the fact that I'm neither taking nor giving courses at the moment. And since I'm steadily working on my dissertation, I actually did have school. Hm. School.

Had a great time spending Sunday afternoon talking with Erynn downstairs at the Starbucks, snacking on some banana loaf. I had her as a student last semester and if she hadn't spotted me and shouted Hi from her car on her way home from the track this summer, I'd likely have never talked with her again, but that quick hello has morphed into a lot of conversation, and so it was fun to actually block off some talk time and chat at leisure. Just a lot of story-swapping, figuring out bits of one another's past that we have in common, like some of our eldest-sibling experiences, or things that were totally different, like her inclination to enjoy moving around a lot, whereas I seem to be someone who enjoys a long residence somewhere, no matter how much I enjoy traveling while I'm settled in a given place. It was also really cool to talk track with someone: I've mourned not having music friends locally since coming to Milwaukee, but it's been a lot longer since I've talked with serious track people. Even though I can't do it any more, I was surprised at how much I was enjoying talking workout theory, particularly of an event I didn't hardly know at all, as she's Marquette's scholarship high-jumper. And so we talked about how she hopes to squeeze three more inches out of herself before graduating, and move up from her current 5'9" personal best to a flat-out six-foot jump. (To my surprise, the ankles figured far more than the quads in this workout plan.) So, anyway, it had been a long time since I'd geeked out to that kind of topic.

We ended up talking quite a bit about places where we might like to end up after school. She's particularly interested in San Francisco, and is looking at a photography internship there for next summer that would be a big leg up on the limited photography training she's able to get through Marquette's journalism program, and so we talked through the different kinds of job opportunities photography presented, and whether or not Photoshopping was an advance on photography as an art, or ultimately a kind of cheat. I talked about the job prospects for next year, and how those would be determining my geographical options. For the first time, I really found myself considering the down side of moving some distance away, particularly with regard to the nieces. Some folks can't wait to get far, far away from where they've grown up, but I think I've ultimately kind of enjoyed the balance in my life between my opportunities for travel and the coincidence that every place I've wanted to go to grad school have ended up being within four hours of where I grew up.

It wasn't until we got up, freaked out that we had talked already to a quarter after six, almost five hours – I think we both thought that it might be about 4:30 – that I saw just how huge and imposing her giant purple cast was. She's just about recovered from her stress fracture injury, but I had no idea that the cast was as large and immobilizing as it was: my own high school stress fracture wasn't nearly so difficult to deal with. But she told some funny stories out of that situation, too, since it turns out that she's about as clumsy as my friend Kristen from the Folk Choir was, which I didn't know could be possible. The image of Erynn's crutch dropping down through the sewer grate was particularly awful, and awfully funny.... Anyway, it was just cool to learn so much about her and to maybe see a new friendship taking off like that. Hours well spent, even if I'm not going to tell my dissertation director about them....

I had the additional fun of running into another student from that class last semester, Catherine (whose name, unfortunately, had flown right out of my head with most of the rest), when she came into the coffeehouse last night as I was working on the Rahner section of chapter three again. Other than the normal quick catch-up chit-chat, I found out that she had added a Theology minor to her Elementary Education studies, which thrilled me to no end. I hate to say it, but the Catholic grade schools often tossed religious education onto any hapless teacher, no matter how grave the lack of preparation. But the high school students I had who had come from the rare grade school where they actually had an intellectually-challenging (and age-appropriate) grade school Theological education had such advantages early on in my course, just by being at a much higher critical-thinking stage regarding things spiritual and philosophical. They were much more likely not to just veer toward whatever the current popular mush was, and were ready to challenge me in the intellectual give-and-take that would make my course more profitable for them. So, we talked about which grades she was leaning toward (third and fourth) and about the really incredible differences between students of just a year apart, and how our skills as teachers seem really particular toward certain ages. Just a cool happenstance kind of conversation.
Before Sunrise: Crazy Idea

Theological Notebook: Another Potential Alternative to Embryonic Stem-Cells

Cells change identity in promising breakthrough
Aug 27, 1:09 PM (ET)

By MALCOLM RITTER

NEW YORK (AP) - Talk about an extreme makeover: Scientists have transformed one type of cell into another in living mice, a big step toward the goal of growing replacement tissues to treat a variety of diseases.

The cell identity switch turned ordinary pancreas cells into the rarer type that churns out insulin, essential for preventing diabetes. But its implications go beyond diabetes to a host of possibilities, scientists said.

It's the second advance in about a year that suggests that someday doctors might be able to use a patient's own cells to treat disease or injury without turning to stem cells taken from embryos.

The work is "a major leap" in reprogramming cells from one kind to another, said one expert not involved in the research, John Gearhart of the University of Pennsylvania.

That's because the feat was performed in living mice rather than a lab dish, the process was efficient and it was achieved directly without going through a middleman like embryonic stem cells, he said.

The newly created cells made insulin in diabetic mice, though they were not cured. But if the experiment's approach proves viable, it might lead to treatments like growing new heart cells after a heart attack or nerve cells to treat disorders like ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

Douglas Melton, co-director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute and a researcher with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, cautioned that the approach is not ready for people.

He and his colleagues report the research in a paper published online Wednesday by the journal Nature.

Basically, the identity switch comes about by a reprogramming process that changes the pattern of which genes are active and which are shut off.

Scientists have long hoped to find a way to reprogram a patient's cells to produce new ones. Research with stem cells, and similar entities called iPS cells that were announced last year, has aimed to achieve this in a two-step process.

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