Science for the Non-Science Guy

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I went out on a limb this morning at the BIO Breakout sessions. Most of my career has been as a journalist and producer, I've been the Communications Director for Genome Alberta less than a year, and no one will ever confuse me with a scientist or researcher. Undaunted though, I went to a breakout session on 'Advances in Biomarkers and Diagnostics for Alzheimer's Disease and Psychiatric Disorders'. Even the title gives me a scare. As it turned out my exposure to the science to date gave me just enough knowledge to keep me focused and more importantly the speakers started off at a level I could keep up with. 5 of the top 15 causes of mortality in the U.S. are related to neuropsychiatric diseases and every 72 seconds, someone in America develops AD. A PR person, a journalist, or the public can get that significance in a heartbeat. Despite those somewhat scarey stats, we are still at a stage where the disease can be very active before the clinical symptoms are there and you can develop any treatment plans. I knew it isn't a quick yes/no diagnosis,  but the news to me was that it can take up to 2 years for a proper diagnosis. Then the first couple of presenters really shone for me with clever but informative language around using changes in the eye to 'shed light on Alzheimers' and that there is a 'molecular window to the brain' through the eyes. Language that is a journalist's 'aha moment' when you realise they can use an eye drop and a flourescent light to look for AD before any cognitive symptoms present themselves. Or that a certain type of cataract is only present in patients with AD. Yes it is a few years before it will go through all trials and approvals to be on the market, but just knowing they are in the development stage is encouraging and worthy of media attention. I learned a long time ago that it can be difficult to communicate some of the advances in science, technolgy or medicine and in my current role I've become acutely aware of the challenges around our work. However it is all about telling a good story to get people's attention and to get the concept across. There are sessions at BIO I may never be able to understand but I've also found sessions that have a story to tell ( okay maybe buried a bit sometimes! ) and if the organizers can keep the balance , and get the right people at the front and the back of the room, we'll all be much more successful in taking it to the average person. Later today though I'll get back into my comfort zone by going to the Biotech and Blogosphere session that is just a wee bit closer to home. Enjoy the rest of the week here.