This week I've spent quite a bit of time working in the lab on my research project. During my time here, I am working with Dr. Spector's lab on a project aimed at better understanding how ischemia-reprofusion affects the body's immune system. Ischemia means that blood flow is stopped. Reprofusion is when blood flow starts again. Ischemia-reprofusion injury is tissue damage resulting from the cessation of blood flow through a tissue. If an hour or two pass before blood flow begins again, then reactive oxygen combined with many other harmful factors will cause damage that create a self-destructive response in the body. This problem is always a concern when blood flow stops and restarts (patients who have experienced the loss and reconnection of an appendage to the body, heart attacks, strokes, surgery , transplants, etc.) All of these patients would benefit from the development of a better way to control ischemia related tissue damage. My time this week has been spent studying the effect of one possible drug remedy on immune system cells to see if it has any measurable effect on some of their surface proteins.
The highlight of my week, however, was the day I was able to meet with a man I had seen undergo surgery just 3 weeks earlier. His procedure involved the removal of part of the epiglotis, or back part of his tongue, where he had a golf-ball sized tumor. Dr. Kutler was able to remove the tumor without disrupting blood flow in the rest of his tongue, so Dr. Spector was able to sew his tongue back together so he might still have a chance to talk and swallow with the help of a speech therapist. This man took wonderful care of himself, and in his follow up appointment I watch as Dr. Spector removed the stitches from his neck and lips, listening to the man talk about how his recovery has been going thus far. It was wonderful to see that a man of his age (70+) was able to heal so well and recover so quickly from such a drastic procedure. He could talk (although a little hard to decipher at times) and swallow a little water (though he will still use a feeding tube to eat or drink for at least 4 more weeks). The sad part of the story is that pathology indicated that the tumor had very thin margins, meaning they don't know if all the cancer cells were cut out of the patient's tongue. After he recovers for a few more months, doctors will probably put this man on radiation or chemotherapy courses to try to get rid of the remaining malignant cells. Hopefully it works. Only time will tell, but for now the man has a few more years left with his tongue intact with a life that's at least a little closer to normal.