Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Tour at the NIH

Dr. Philips showing the guests his lab.

Chronicles of a Science Policy Intern

Last month I went on a tour of the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB), sponsored by the Coalition for Imaging and Bioengineering Research. The purpose of the visit was to inform people about the innovative research that is happening at NIBIB so that they can better advocate to Congress.

The back of my head! And Dr. Philips showing us how lab technicians analyze blood samples.

The morning began with a presentation by the Director of the NIBIB, Roderic Pettigrew, PhD, MD. Dr. Pettigrew presented an introduction and overview of current projects. My favorite was the “Brain-Computer Interface.” This innovative technology allows people with paralyzed limbs to type on a computer by having the computer read their brain waves while they think of letters, which it will then type. It was recently featured on a 60 Minutes special called “Brain Power.” You can view the clip here.

The next presentation was by Dr. Bradford Wood, who specializes in interventional radiology research. He explained image guided therapy, one of the most recent surgical techniques being applied at the Clinical Center. This technique allows doctors to use imaging during surgery for more minimally invasive, safer and cost effective procedures that produce better outcomes. One example is using imaging to view a tumor during surgery so that the surgeon can see and remove the entire tumor rather than guessing if the general area around the tumor needs to be removed and then finding out after surgery that he/she missed a spot. At this point, I was wondering how I could ever settle for treatment with “normal” technology after learning about all these innovations!

A lab technician analyzing samples in the Nanoscale Immunodiagnostics Laboratory.

The visit concluded with a tour of the Nanoscale Immunodiagnostics Laboratory by Dr. Terry Philips. The lab does extremely small scale blood sampling (for example, taking a tiny amount of blood from premature babies) to diagnose immunodeficiences. It was my first time in a lab at NIH and I appreciated Dr. Philips' enthusiasm as he showed us around his domain. At one point, he was passing around microchips (little glass slides that hold blood samples for analysis) and he said, “If you’re going to drop one of these chips, it should be this one, it’s only $600.” Eek!

A microchip used for blood samples at the Nanoscale Immunodiagnostics Laboratory

As a science policy intern coming from a non-science background, seeing the work that is going on at NIH first-hand really helps me understand why advocating for science is so important. If you ever have an opportunity, go on a tour of a local lab or research center to learn about the unique research that is going on in your own community!

*Photos courtesy of Renee Cruea, President, CIBR

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