The Human Side

I just came back from the 23rd International Symposium on ALS/MND in Chicago. While recovering from my horrible jet lag (I live in Dublin, those 6h difference do not set well on me…) and the 14h trip, I got myself reviewing what I learned.
First, I need to say that I only had half of the information – as the conference was split into simultaneous “scientific” and “clinical” sections, I could only attend one or the other. Because my background, I was on the “scientific” side.
For all those who were there, you know how it went. Some interesting developments in certain research areas, all quite the same in some others, but so is science. We keep going.
What was not usual, however – at least not for me – was the presence of ALS patients.
I don’t know how my colleagues felt about it. I heard no comments on that, but seeing the patients attending the sections, from beginning to end, got me thinking.
When we research on a disease topic, I think we are quite used to be somewhat detached from it. We all have used some impact pictures and numbers to impress funding agencies, but I am not sure if those images and numbers really keep us up at night.
But seeing – not a picture, not a number – but a person of flesh blood, dreams and hopes sitting there listening to what progress – or lack thereof – it has been made, it is a tad heartbreaking. It sort of made me feel as if I owed that person some answers, some perspective.
I don’t know what happened in the clinical section, but I hope that these patients had the chance to speak, if they wanted to, and share their experiences.
As scientists, we think we know a lot about the biochemistry, the physiology, and the clinical side of this or that disease, but perhaps we ought to connect ourselves a bit more and learn also the human side.