From the Science-Fiction Series The VOX of SU’s SHELL
Success is a science; if you have the conditions, you get the result.Oscar Wilde
Developing a Model System
A scientist can support any working hypothesis with the right research model. In science, models are designed to be ideal for the system they mimic. A system manipulated to be a quintessential model will support the working hypothesis it was created to uphold.
Research models are engineered to behave in a way that represents a problem and are used as a platform to find a solution. A system manipulated to yield a specific result will create a bias toward that particular outcome. Moreover, a conclusion imposed on an ideal state will rarely translate to a living system or disease state.
Living systems and disease states are never ideal.
Human physiology drastically differs from person to person. In general, no two patients ever have the same symptoms, but fall within a spectrum of manifestations. And, there are always outliers: patients that display the rarest of symptoms.
Model systems manipulated to answer a specific question, will. But often fail to translate to the real state of the problem.
In clinical research, a treatment can be 99% effective in a genetically modified mouse or cell culture but translate to less than 10% in human patients; which is the same as the placebo effect.
The foundation for Je’s scientific research was engineering personalized research models using patient cells that translated to individual patients with high accuracy.
In graduate school, Je had engineered bioprintable microchips that mimicked the interactions between bodily fluids and different tissues in the human body using isolated cells from patients. Je patented the device as the “MyChip,” a clinician’s tool for personalized medicine. The MyChip required only a few isolated cells from each tissue of interest and a micro-sample of fluid to test the risk factor and effectiveness of drugs.
The Devilic Microchip Experiment
With Je’s early success with the “MyChip,” she became one of the most eligible candidates for engineering model systems.
Dr. Cruila Devilic recruited Je to develop a research model for studying the interaction between the human brain and an implantable microchip. The project existed within an EDEN initiative called the CHIP, the Cybernetic Host Implant Program.
The CHIP initiative aimed to use cranial implants to reverse brain damage and cure physical and mental disabilities. Although, some had hope for employing the technology for neural enhancement and artificial superpowers like telepathy.
When Je first met Dr. Devilic, she was taken back by her demeanor. Dr. Devilic was not a typical scientist. She dressed garishly, especially for working in a laboratory. Cruila had wild black curly hair with a few unruly chunks of bleached white and bright red strands. She wore Dalmatian printed high heels with a matching Jacket. The skin from her face appeared fastened to her ears from too many facelifts and her lips stuck out like a duck from silicone injections.
Dr. Devilic had previously been a medical doctor in Myanmar but became a clinical researcher in the U.S after marrying an American neuroscientist. While she was not eligible to practice medicine in America, she worked as a clinical scientist side by side with her husband.
Je’s first impression of Dr. Devilic should have heeded warning.
Within five minutes of meeting Je, Cruila offered her a job. She told Je with a thick Croatian accent, “Darling, I like your face and your story. I tell you what I will do for you; I offer you a position with a bonus if you promise to stay for at least two years.”
Je, a little stunned and tongue-tied said, “I will need to know more about the study and take some time to think about your offer.”
“Do you have other offers?” Asked Dr. Devilic.
“I have received other offers but planned on making my final decision after I defend my dissertation,” Je replied honestly.
“I will only give you a bonus if you sign now…” Dr. Devilic said quickly. And followed up with, “and I will give you more money than any other offer!”
Je would be graduating in less than three months. Getting a fellowship before her defense meant she would have one less thing to worry about before graduation. Besides working in a prominent lab in the Department of Engineering and Medical Observatory for Neuroscience (DEMON) at the Gesundheit Institute for Medicine and Pharmacology (GIMP) would open up future opportunities, Je thought. It is only two years; she rationalized further. Even if…worst case scenario…it is just a couple of years.
But why is she offering me a job so quickly and on the spot? Je asked herself.
Je hesitated for a minute, and going against her intuition, she accepted. And, immediately began to agonize over whether she made the right choice.
Je started her fellowship at Gesundheit’s DEMON in the Devilic Laboratory two weeks after graduating.
On Je’s very first day she realized taking the job was a mistake. Dr. Devilic wanted her to conduct the CHIP experiments on mice. Something she neglected to tell Je before offering her a position.
Considering Je’s motivation for replacing the animal model, she found it a difficult task, ethically and emotionally.
Dr. Devilic carried a very apathetic attitude about using animals in research, as did the other scientists in her lab.
Dr. Dov Baum, a scientist that had once served in the Israeli army, taught Je how to implant the microchip and harvest organs. He could take a mouse apart in minutes. He laughed at Je after she got sick the first time she watched him quickly remove each organ one by one.
Dov told Je, “What this makes you sick? I have seen Syrians blown up without looking like you do right now.” “You are in the wrong profession,” he scoffed at Je.
Je resented Dov for implying she shouldn’t be a scientist because she didn’t like working with animal subjects. But maybe it bothered Je because there was some truth in his conjecture.
However, their feelings toward one another, Je and Dov shared some concern over their observations during the initial microchip experiment.
The implant procedure yielded some unexpected results. Mice that died due to respiratory stress or heart-failure during the surgical implantation of the microchip appeared alive. As did mice that died from brain swelling in response to the implant. The subjects had no heartbeat, yet they had reflexes including limb and optical response.
When Je reported the findings to Dr. Devilic she told Je, “They move and respond; they are undead. Include them in the success rate.”
“But they are not alive. There is no heartbeat,” Je argued.
“They responded to the microchip. The experiment is a success,”Dr. Devilic said with conviction.
“They have no heartbeat!” Je exclaimed.
Cruila told Je, “Darling, your research will never get published otherwise. Without published paper, no funding for research.”
“I will report the results as I observe them,” Je stated with naïve confidence.
As the senior scientist, Dov reported the findings as Dr. Devilic requested.
Regardless of the issues that arose with the initial experiments, Dr. Devilic moved the CHIP study into paralyzed mice.
After Je refused to paralyze mice to create a research model for the second phase of the CHIP, Dr. Devilic became relentless.
Dov had no qualms with paralyzing the mice. He created three models for paralysis: stroke-induced paralysis, infection-induced, and traumatic injury.
Each model was devastating to Je’s psyche.
While the study overwhelmed Je with guilt, some-of the mice responded positively to the microchip implant and regained limb functionality.
However, Je and Dov observed the same disturbing outcome with the mice that died during the implant procedure. The dead mice demonstrated limb and optical reflex.
Dov was intrigued by the results and played with a device programmed remotely control the movement of the mice like a toy robot.
Je was disgusted with Dov’s apathy for life.
Je reported the same findings with concern to Dr. Devilic, who responded in the same manner as she had before.
“The subjects can move their limbs; the experiment is a success,” Cruila told Je once more.
After fighting with Cruila over the definition of what “dead” meant, Je went home to her husband Chris and told him she had to resign from her position.
Chris told Je, “Maybe you are just overworked and will change your mind after a good nights rest.”
That night Je tossed and turned. She dreamt mice zombies were crawling all over her in bed, with one biting her face as she woke up screaming. Her dog Toto had licked her chin to wake her up when he sensed something was wrong. He tumbled to the bottom of the bed as she sat up and cried. Determined to comfort Je, Toto climbed back and licked her face.
Je went back to sleep and dreamt she was trying to implant Toto with a microchip in her bed like it was a surgical table.
The next morning Je walked into the lab, grabbed all her belongings and left without saying a word. She called Gesundheit’s administrator and told her she wanted to resign.
The administrator admittedly said, “you lasted longer than most research fellows in Dr. Devilic’s lab. Dr. Baum is the only scientists who has stayed longer than a year.” Which explained why Cruila told Je that she wanted at least two years from her. While Je was not obligated to stay, she had to pay back the bonus if she left prematurely.
No amount of money could change Je’s mind.
“If she has such a high turnover of scientists, why is she still the department head for DEMON?” Je asked.
“Money,” the administrator stated with obviousness.
“Dr. Devil’s husband is a benefactor. She took over after he became the CEO of Cybernetics Pharmaceuticals.” The administrator explained.
“But doesn’t CyberPharm produce the microCHIP? Isn’t that a conflict-of-interest?” Je asked with the realization of utter and total corruption.
“GIMP is willing to release you of your obligations for repayment of your bonus, but you have to sign a Non-disclosureAgreement,” the administrator said firmly ignoring Je’s questions.
When the administrator saw Je’s hesitance, she claimed, “You already signed a Non-disclosure Agreement that was in your hiring packet, this will just reaffirm your silence on the project.”
Je signed reluctantly knowing she would forever be haunted by GIMP’s DEMON. She would spend eternity guilted for taking a vow of silence.
While she did not file a formal complaint on her boss for unethically practicing science, Je stated irreconcilable differences in scientific practice.