interrupting our regularly scheduled program

27 Sep

I’m trying to cram as much biochem into my head as possible right now.  I was just rewatching part of a lecture on gluconeogenesis, the metabolic pathway that results in the formation of glucose from lactate, glycerol, or amino acids.  Let’s take a step back for a sec: I mean, we’ve been talking about gluconeogenesis like it’s no big deal, but how amazing is it that our body is like, Whoops!  Out of glucose again.  We need some fuel to function, so let’s just make it ourselves.  WTF!  But, yeah, it’s a pretty common occurrence, so we talk about it like it’s no big deal.

Anyway, during the first few minutes of the lecture, our professor interrupted his regular spiel to tell us about how a student asked him, very politely (he specified), a few years ago why we even bother studying gluconeogenesis, since it’s a pathway we really rarely use…because when are we ever starving except during Yom Kippur.  Lllllll.  Well, I guess I’ve said my share of insensitive things.  Anyway, my professor took a few minutes to, again very politely and not at all patronizingly, explain that people in the world are starving.  One person dies every second as a result of hunger.  In 2007, there were roughly one billion hungry people in the world despite the fact that the world produces enough food to feed 12 billion people.  Behind heart disease and cancer, malnutrition is the third leading cause of death.  And, he concluded, as a scientist, this issue is one he grapples with a lot.  We devote so much time and energy to discovering new ways to treat and cure interesting but considerably less critical, on a global scale, diseases, while malnutrition is something that we can fix now.

Okay, I know all you out there with considerably more global health and public policy know-how are probably reeling because starvation around the world is certainly a complicated problem, and curing it is far from simple.  My point is not that it isn’t, and not at all to trivialize it as a topic of conversation by brushing it off for now (because I would enjoy getting into it further), but I love that I’m learning from scientists that both care deeply about the larger humanitarian concern and go so far as to question the very funding of their own research in light of it.

In other news, we cut out our cadaver’s heart today…he has a HUGE heart.  Seriously, I’m not really sure how he breathed.  His lungs were also significantly calcified.  It’s amazing to me how 2-3 hours in the anatomy lab can fly by in the blink of an eye.  The human body is incredible.

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