Sunday, March 21, 2010

Searching and researching

This week has been interesting, to say the very least. It started on Monday with working with new Italian missionaries at the Missionary Training Center. I volunteer each week and listen to them improve in their language and teaching skills... and some of the things I learn, I take back to my office where I help to write the MTC curriculum. Other things, I hope are just anomalies. This week I realized that missionaries need to better understand how to teach people about the influence of the Holy Ghost – how to recognize it, create a setting where it is present, and ultimately expect it. The sisters who taught me, after asking me how I felt, never really explained or put a name to what was happening. I have learned so much about the importance of the Holy Ghost – and how crucial it is to teach about it early – since my mission. The peace that accompanies learning truth is the witness of the Holy Ghost that what you are learning is true; that is incredibly important for understanding the peace that the Gospel brings! I hope that, somehow, we can help missionaries achieve some of those same insights during the short time they are trained here in Provo.

In the post-April housing search, we put in an offer on a house this week. It's a nice house in Orem near University Mall. If it goes through, it will be amazing. If not, then we'll keep looking. Whatever happens, the Lord will be involved.

Then the course-changing event. One of my cousins has Cystic Fibrosis and has been using an essential oil blend in a nebulizer as a daily breathing treatment. While he mentioned that it felt like it was working, we've been waiting with our fingers crossed to see what would happen when he had a pulmonary function test (the gold standard for following Cystic Fibrosis - CF)... and the test was this week. Result: he scored higher on this test than he did last time. Here's the reason why we were concerned: he had been using the essential oils in place of his normal mucous-thinning medication, and if we had gotten a negative result it may have easily smashed our hopes for trying to find something in essential oils to help treat CF. But it wasn't negative – it was positive – and that is enough to make me want to move forward.

In our initial test we tried to correct for everything from frequency of usage to exercise habits. But it was just one person, and while it was effective, I want to know if it is effective with a wider variety of people and a wider variety of severities. If it is effective, I want to make it available to more people... let them know about it... because CF is an awful disease and maybe this can do something to help it. That puts me in a unique situation. Traditional drug research methods are incredibly time-consuming and costly; designed to take a dozen years or more from the initial idea before they are available on the market to treat a given condition. Right now, clinical research studies require massive amounts of money, time, approval from the government before they can start, planning, staff, oversight, red tape... Which means that there is no way that any company will ever invest the millions of dollars it would take to do a study using essential oils – because it would never give a return. And the money from foundations like the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, by going through traditional drug production methods, also takes years before it is available. Also, the way that clinical studies are currently designed, it would require even more costs to identify and outline exact essential oil dosage specifications – for example, listing every single chemical component in lemon oil, with exact specificity. How useful is that, when every time you grow another lemon, or even take another one off the tree, the lemon oil is going to have a slightly different ratio of components?

In the pharmaceutical industry, these massive barriers serve to protect us from unproven and dangerous medications – to keep our hopes up and ensure that no one can sell snake oil to the highest bidder. And they work on that regard. But essential oils and natural products, unlike novel drugs, are already available to normal consumers. They could, ostensibly, go to the store and purchase these products and use them with the intent to treat a given condition. And thousands of people do – that is the story of the 'dietary supplement' industry, from ginseng root to vitamin C. That's why I could give my cousin an essential oil blend, he could use it, and then report back to me the results of his experiment. Enter the trigger for my next thought: why not create a clinical trial method that would leverage the willingness of people to try new things added to the ease of obtaining those options... all guided and recorded using the internet? If ten thousand people signed up to take 500mg of vitamin C each day during the next winter and then to report on their flu and cold symptoms, that would be an impressive body of information (for or against using vitamin C as a flu preventative)... and one that would help finally put a piece of medical research into the hands of someone other than fully-funded pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, and universities. And maybe I could do that with CF.

So I'm doing it.

If I were a medical doctor, I could simply follow the normal, prescribed route (pun intended) – diagnose Cystic Fibrosis, prescribe a given study medication to treat that condition, interpret results, tabulate data, and report to the scientific community. But I'm not a doctor, so I can't. Simple solution: I won't diagnose, prescribe, or treat anything. I'll simply ask people with CF who have their own doctors, who have already been diagnosed, and who decide to try using essential oils to report on their condition. By just asking them to report and using a product that is already available on the market, I can avoid the red tape of clinical trials. Yes, it will mean that everyone will need to convince their doctors to let them try it. They would have to convince their doctors anyway. It might preclude my ability to get funding from organizations and associations, but it will cut costs by a gazillion dollars... and funding organizations have ultra-long time lines anyway. If I have an idea, I want to try it tomorrow – not submit it by September for approval by next June for funding for the year after that! And perhaps it will make it harder to make the results available to the scientific community. I'll contact a few current medical researchers to ask questions about that.

This week I'll start the process. I'll create a website branched from Nature's Fusions explaining the project with a sign up, information, and submission instructions for anyone who wants to be involved. Hopefully, the positive results we've had will prove to be useful in more situations... and we can improve lives of people with Cystic Fibrosis. I still have to be cautious about that... but I'm hopeful. And perhaps a new method of research – finding ways to empower consumers and turn the anecdotal into the scientific – could be the door to a new wave of health-conscious, consumer-led inquiry in medical science.

What finally pushed me was that even my scripture study and conversations with the Lord are in this same direction. I was reading my scriptures this morning and suddenly had a revelation – on alginate. Some CF patients have what are called mucoid infections of pseudomonas aeruginosa – where the bacteria creates a protective, gooey, sticky substance called alginate that is impermeable to water, air, and antibiotics (in the food industry, it's used as chewing gum). The thought/inspiration I had while reading Alma was that something simple was able to dissolve alginate. I looked it up and alginate (specifically, calcium alginate) is insoluble in water, ethanol, and organic solvents. That's why it creates a massive problem when it's in your lungs. But it slowly dissolves in a solution of sodium carbonate. You can buy sodium carbonate in the supermarket as washing soda, or make it by broiling baking soda. I don't know if breathing a solution of sodium carbonate would help patients with mucoid pseudomonas, but it's another direction to try... and I know that the Lord's revelation accurately pushed me toward that discovery, since baking soda is definitely a simple ingredient.

I'm not exactly sure what it is the Lord is trying to teach me right now, other than an intensive course in organic chemistry and medicine. Maybe it has to do with opening doors, improving lives, moving mountains and making a difference in the world. And maybe it simply has to do with listening and acting on the promptings I receive. Sometimes the Lord is quiet in our lives. And sometimes He prompts us to move forward – to do something we have never done before. That's where I am. But with God at our side, nothing is impossible. So try it. Dream the impossible dream. And then go out and share it with the world – go out and be missionaries!

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