At the Root of the Matter

If the root is not known

The cure won’t be shown.

The cause is the key

To protect you and me.

So much can be solved by identifying the underlying cause of a problem.

Treating or masking the symptoms does not help prevention or long term recovery.

Whether your challenges are medical, financial, technical or personal relationship related, getting to the root cause is critical to resolving them.

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My team at work spends the majority of their time conducting Incident Reviews and Root Cause Analysis sessions where we investigate and discover what went wrong, why did the IT system fail and what can be done to prevent reoccurrence. The most important part of the process is the peeling back of the onion by asking multiple Why questions. The Five Whys is an effective methodology that can be applied to all aspects of our lives.

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Top of mind for the majority of the planet’s population is the concern and fear of COVID-19. How can we best treat it? How do we prevent it?

While I am hopeful that the new vaccines will stem the spread of the virus, I wish that more attention would be given to the underlying health conditions that are severely hurting (and killing) certain populations in a disproportionate manner. Instead of obsessing over masks and lockdown effectiveness, why aren’t the WHO, the CDC and our government officials screaming from tops of the trees that a healthy weight and lifestyle are the best weapons against this disease. The word comorbidity seems like a polite, PC way to say unhealthy. The underlying cause of the most prevalent health risks are a poor diet and exercise habits and unfortunately, being in lockdown does not make it easy to eat well and work out.

If the root is not known, the cure won’t be shown.

Oh how I wish we would spend more time and energy to identify the underlying reasons of why a problem or bad condition has occurred.

Remember, the cause is the key to protect you and me!

Asking Why multiple times may provide the answer.

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Risk and Reward: Why I will take the COVID-19 vaccine

Each day we make hundreds of choices and decisions regarding our health and safety.

If there’s one thing I learned in the year 2020 it is that every human being has a different risk tolerance.  Everyone on this planet has a unique set of personal scales and internal measurements when it comes to assessing the risk of any given action versus the benefit or reward of it.  Each person has their own fears, neurotic tendencies and defense mechanisms.  Every individual is as distinct as a snowflake when it comes to Risk Management. 

Welcome to Risk Management where in the real world there is little conformity among billions of inquiring minds!

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Looking back, I realize that my first lesson in risk management  (risk vs. reward) occurred when I was 10 years old. While riding my shiny new Huffy ten-speed bicycle, I took a turn too quickly and hit a patch of sand.  This resulted in my crashing to the asphalt and receiving my first, full arm road rash.  I suddenly understood that risky actions can sometimes lead to unpleasant consequences.  I soon realized that I had to improve my bike handling skills and look out for hazards in the road in order to be safe and prevent bodily injury.   

The risk of crashing aside, my passion and love of bike riding has continued throughout my adult life as I pursued numerous criterium, cyclocross, track, road and mountain bike races.  All of these events had a high of level of risk for injury but my desire to have the thrilling reward outweighed my concerns.  I was willing to take my chances knowing that I had prepared, trained and did what I could to mitigate bodily harm.  I always wore a high quality helmet to protect my head but that didn’t help when I faceplanted onto a rock in the mountains of southern California. The helmet didn’t do much when I crashed in the final turn of a road races and got run over by the rider behind me. If you race bikes enough, you will crash but that is the risk that many people take for the reward of the experience. 

The importance of the rewards and/or benefits of an activity also varies greatly among people.  No one has the exact same set of values.

I, like many cyclists, have modified my bike riding patterns to account for the increased risk of getting hit by a vehicle on the road.  To save my skin and bones, I primarily ride on dirt paths on my mountain bike, far away from distracted drivers.  At least the rocks and cacti are stationary and don’t come up behind me at 80 mph!  

At this point you may be asking, what does Brenda’s story about biking riding have to do with the decision to take the COVID-19 vaccine?

Why am I comfortable with the decision to take a newly developed vaccine that only has Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) from the FDA?

It’s simple.  It’s Risk Management.

Based on my experience and background in Biochemistry studies in college, jobs in clinical research/pharmaceutical companies and recent investigation and inquiry on the messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine, I am making the best-informed decision for myself.

In a nutshell, below are the main reasons why I plan to take the new vaccine once available to me:

  1. I want to be able to travel and visit my family without worrying about contracting and spreading the virus.
  2. Messenger RNA has been studied and worked on for many decades and holds the potential to revolutionize vaccination.
  3. The delivery mechanism of the mRNA using a Lipid Nano Particle (LNP) is way cool.
  4. The immune response that is being enhanced is targeted for the specific spike protein on the “business end” of the SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) virus.
  5. The COVID-19 virus is unpredictable and contracting the disease can result in unknown and longer-term effects that are not fully understood at this point.
  6. The effects of revving up my immune system to defend against this novel virus is controlled and short lived. I’ll take 24 hours of unpleasant discomfort over 5-10 days of uncertain outcomes.
  7. The FDA clinical research phases that were accelerated were primarily bureaucratic waste/red tape and the extended times it normally takes to enroll people into the clinical trial (phases 1 and 2).
  8. The Pfizer and Moderna phase 3 trials were controlled, randomized and double-blinded studies with over 41.000 and 30,000 participants respectively.  

So whether it’s the decision to ride a bicycle on the road, go to the holiday party, wear a mask or take the newly developed COVID-19 vaccine, we all need to weigh the risks and the benefits of our choices.

A Holiday Party with Toastmaster friends, Colorado 2015

How much risk you are willing to take is a very personal calculation based on your unique circumstances, fears and desires.  Only you can make the determination regarding what is most important to you.

I encourage you to actively research and study on as many neutral, science-based sites and publications as you can find in order to fully understand the biology, the history and the implications of taking the new vaccine.  

Listen to a wide range of medical, clinical research and industry professionals to get all sides of the story before you run the information through your personal Risk Management filter.  

And lastly, follow your gut.  I have found that the little voice inside your head that instinctively tells you what is safe and good is usually right.   

  

Following Science and Its Fiction

Let me tell you a little about how I developed my keen interest in the study of the human immune system. 

In sixth grade, I fell in love with reading science fiction books. My teacher, Mr. Gary Muschla, read the class Ray Bradbury’s “The Illustrated Man” and I was hooked. My passion for science fiction continued throughout middle school and high school as I devoured books by Ray Bradbury, Frank Herbert, and Piers Anthony.

In eighth grade, I decided that I would major in biochemistry when I went to college, which is rather unusual for a middle schooler. By ninth grade I set my sites on becoming a medical doctor. I remember the thrill of researching and writing a thirty-page term paper on cancer treatments for my advanced placement biology class.  I concluded that immunotherapy held the greatest promise for a cure. In my mind, science fiction was swiftly becoming science fact.

At Rutgers University, I majored in biochemistry. Then, after four years serving in the army, I took jobs with pharmaceutical and Clinical Research staffing firms and worked with pharmaceutical giants such as Glaxo, Amgen, Genentech and Celgene. I truly was living my dream as I became a subject matter expert in antibiotic, allergy and asthma treatment protocols and the FDA approval process.

Then, in 2000, my life was upended when I was diagnosed with the auto-immune disorder known as Graves Disease. Over the next three years, I lost my mother, my father, and my eldest brother to complications from cancer, tragedies that transformed my passion into an obsessive need to understand the immune system that can either save or destroy us.

Every year, new immunotherapy breakthroughs are happening all around us. My desire to research, learn, and experiment is aimed at understanding the true root cause of disease and the ways we can recover from or prevent illness. We may not yet have nano-machines (nanites) traveling through our bloodstreams, helping our immune systems combat deadly illnesses, but science is getting ever closer to these science fiction dreams.

So while I love science and I love science fiction, I don’t want scientific facts to become fictions.  But scientific facts and data are created and interpreted by humans and in these hyper-partisan times, control and politics have invaded what I thought was a methodical, logical and neutral world.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been told to “follow the science” and “listen to the experts” but many have become disillusioned by the contradictory information being shared and disseminated by our government and health organization leaders.

It’s December 2020 and most of the world’s population has been living in a bizarre state of pandemic fear, stress and uncertainty for 10 months.  A legion of medical, scientific and biotechnology professionals have been hyper-focused on understanding the unpredictable new virus (SARS- CoV-2) and how it can be eradicated.  We have witnessed very significant progress and worldwide cooperation which has led to epic innovations in vaccine development.

It’s the end of 2020 and although we don’t have nano-machine enabled immune systems like the ones depicted in the best selling science fiction series “The Rho Agenda” by Richard Phillips, two pharmaceutical companies have requested emergency use approval in the US for messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines to protect against the novel coronavirus. This breakthrough has me thrilled and excited for the future of immunotherapy.

This year’s flurry of research and activity on the virus vaccine front brought back memories of the intense focus and effort in the 1980s and 90s on the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) which caused the AIDS epidemic.  I remember learning about the important role of T Cells in the immune system and how remarkably adaptive and fragile these human defense mechanisms can be.

While I am hopeful and excited to watch the private/public collaboration of numerous biotech companies and governments across the world, my positive mood sours as I watch cable news, read newspapers, Facebook and Twitter with sensationalized stories to exaggerate the numbers, trends and statistics and exploit people’s fears.

The scientific method and my understanding of the immune system was turned on its head as I listened to the countless world experts and health leaders give their press conferences and statements.  

What I was hearing didn’t always make sense and I soon came to realize that the world health organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) were political bodies more than they were health advocates.

I was dismayed at the politicization of the COVID 19 response in the United States and wish that our government officials would focus more on common sense approaches and the basics of good health and strong immune systems.  Instead, many have weaponized the data and the science to support the agreed upon narratives.

I couldn’t believe it when I saw some US medical doctors being censored and threatened for speaking about certain therapeutic treatments. 

As the distrust of the federal and state governments and centralized health organizations increased, the public began to question the validity of the statistics and metrics.  There is continued uncertainty about the risk and the best prevention strategies for containing and combatting the virus.

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So this all brings me back to my passion and interest in the human immune system and how it can help us cope and survive the madness that is 2020 and the COVID 19 pandemic.

Now more than ever, I marvel at the amazingly adaptive and effective human immune system.   If we nurture and support our bodies with proper nutrition, exercise and healthy lifestyle habits, our innate and acquired immune systems can protect us well from most pathogens.

Knowing that the human immune system is a robust and multi-level system with two main types of cells can help us understand, appreciate and support their functions.

Innate immune cells are the 1st line and include macrophages and other pac-man-like cells including neutrophils and basophils ( see image below).  If this first response doesn’t neutralize the invading bacteria or virus, the special ops cells are activated.  B and T cells are lymphocytes and use past behavior and exposure to identify and eliminate foreign threats in the body. This is our acquired or adaptive immune system.

B-cells fight bacteria and viruses by making Y-shaped proteins called antibodies, which are specific to each pathogen and are able to lock onto the surface of an invading cell and mark it for destruction by other immune cells.

There are two types of T-cells: helper T-cells and killer T-cells. Helper T-cells stimulate B-cells to make antibodies and help killer cells develop. Killer T-cells directly kill cells that have already been infected by a foreign invader. T-cells also use cytokines as messenger molecules to send chemical instructions to the rest of the immune system to ramp up its response.

Types of Immune Cells

Knowledge of our amazing immune systems can help us understand why the vast majority of people have mild symptoms when they are exposed to coronaviruses. Many peoples’ adaptive immune systems have naturally responded to the foreign invaders. Unfortunately, there are millions of people around the world whose immune systems did not respond in a positive or productive way, and this has resulted in far too many deaths. This is where medical and health officials can do a better job to educate people on the importance of maintaining a strong immune system and the risk of having a comorbidity.

So as we listen to and follow the science, remember that Science is not an Oracle and he doesn’t write blogs or do podcast interviews. Science is not an all powerful, all knowing entity. “Rather we have a mountain of research and data that is correlated, extrapolated and interpreted by a multitude of flawed and biased human, each with their own personal and political perspective.”

Human biases aside, I am still optimistic that sci-fi dreams of nano-machine enabled immune systems may one day become a science reality. Until that day, I will continue to share the important message about our body’s amazingly adaptive defensive system and how we can help improve and shore up our internal protections.

To the world’s health, medical and political leaders, I implore them to set aside their control based and non-common-sense policies and let scientific research and experimentation be the methodical, logical and neutral world where it can best thrive, discover and innovate to save lives.

Here’s to Following Science but Not it’s Fiction!