“The Youngest Science” by Lewis Thomas

Medicine Watcher

Dr. Thomas gives a fascinating personal account of the development of medicine in the last three-quarters of a century. He grew up watching his parents practice medicine (his father was a physician, and his mother a nurse), became a physician himself, also a professor and dean of the medical school of NYU, served on the New York Board of Health overseeing public health policy and later headed a cancer center. He also experienced being a patient, receiving surgeries and hospital care.

Neurology, Immunology and Olfaction

Thomas intrigues the readers with many interesting problems in immunology and related fields. His sense of wonder and curiosity are very contagious. In particular, I find his notion that “neurology and immunology may be on the verge of converging” fascinating, and will pursue further readings on the subject.

Dogs and mice can track individuals by their smell and separate people with cancer from those who are normal by the smell of their urine samples. These experiments suggest that differences in genetic makeup are expressed in smell (molecular makeup), and each person has a unique smell that can be used as a unique identifier, like fingerprints. These markers of self may have a mechanism similar to those in immune response, where foreign cells are detected presumably by molecular interactions on the cell membrane.

Memory (both immune memory and long-term memory in the brain) involves molecular interactions (at the synapses) and the synthesis of new molecules (proteins, etc). Vaccines work similarly to sensitization, i.e., they facilitate and strengthen existing pathways and even create new ones.

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