Continuing my love affair with Natalie Vestin’s and EA Farro’s Science Love Letters, I was particularly entranced by EA Farrow’s August 24 letter, Under the Microscope. Consider, for example, the beauty the image above (from an entirely different website). According to its caption in an article titled “Beautiful Data: Cell Biology Yields Microcosms of Art,”
Neon-colored cells divide in a cell culture. Wendy Crone and graduate student Suehelay Acevedo are looking at how the mechanical properties of their surrounding might influence cells during division. The green stain marks centrosomes, which are one of the main mechanical components involved in cell division. The blue marks cell nuclei, and the red marks the DNA of dividing cells. Images by Max Salick
In her August 24 love letter, EA Farrow writes, among many other things, about how she fell in love with a microscope as a child. About the microscope as a tool to her better understanding the “forests of 8,000 years ago,” research of which has been a part of her scientific career. And then she talks about introducing her microscope to her young children:
I pulled out my scope this morning, touched it like I would a lover. I introduced it to the boys like it was an old friend. I felt the urge to dive in, leave off. But what we had to look at was bits of our neighborhood: oak leaf, dirt, kale, onion skin. I could see without looking the cell walls, reaching vein structures. As if once you see, you cannot forget the level of detail in each bit of life.
My husband is a pathologist, the only other person I know to use the near-to- affectionate word “scope” for microscope. We’ve purchased a few, one a long time ago when we could ill afford it and yet it is the microscope and my husband’s keen eye that has made most things in our life possible. It is why those good eyes of his have gone myopic and why his body wishes he wouldn’t sit so much. It is what has helped him recognize disease: inflammation, infection, cancer. He has saved lives–many, many lives–with his scope.
He told me yesterday about a remote place in the world where surgery for cancer occurs, but there are no pathologists. No scopes to find detail in tumorous cells that might help make a diagnosis, which predicts a prognosis, which directs a clinician to treatment. Life saving treatment, but not without a scope. Without a scope, without a pathologist with a keen eye looking through a scope, people in these small and remote villages sometimes purchase a container (from container-selling vendors who set up shop near surgery clinics) in which to place and preserve, with the appropriate chemicals, the tumors removed from their loved one’s bodies. Families take the tumors (and, presumably, their loved ones) home, and wait until they can raise enough money to later bring the preserved tumor to a setting where a pathologist practices.
Only then do they get to see the tiniest details in this bit of life (and possibly death) of the people they love. Only then do they benefit from the keen eye of a pathologist, as s/he looks through that miracle of science, the microscope, to the miracles of science, ourselves, our cells.