4Cs Science Communication Writing Competition – Joint 3rd Place

by Imanol Duran, MSc Student, Department of Life Sciences

Quarantine Connection – Grandma Calling


GRANDMA (with internet connection)
GRANDSON (with a STEM degree)

Spain. Each in their quarantine homes, awaiting the bending of the COVID-19 curve.

Grandma: Wait… I can’t see you, son.
Grandson: Grandma, take the thumb off the screen (laughs). Yes, that’s it.
Grandma: So what are those interesting things your mom told me about, you know, the ones to help uncle John’s lung cancer? (Accommodates in grandpa’s armchair, looking at the screen with the chin a bit too high).
Grandson: They’re called senolytics, and are tiny molecules that target some specific cells in cancer.
Grandma: Smaller than the new virus?
Grandson: Yes, smaller, they’re proteins. Anyway, when cells get old (they become senescent) and cannot do their function correctly, they stop dividing and take a resting attitude.
Grandma: So… they’re in retirement.
Grandson: Yes, basically! But sometimes they go rogue and they start to multiply and contribute to tumour growth, acting in exactly the opposite way to the wellbeing of the tissue!
Grandma: They are like the other cancer cells then…
Grandson: Not necessarily, but they can contribute to the aggressiveness of the disease, and worsen the relapse if it happens.
Grandma: And what do senolytic ‘things’ have to do with this?
Grandson: (leans towards the computer in his bedroom, with excitement). Doing big screening with a lot of drugs, molecules that specifically target and destroy these rogue senescent cells, which can be coupled with mainstream therapies of chemotherapy, radiotherapy and immunotherapy, and treat cancers from lung to liver. However, the development of these drugs and the process of their validation is quite complicated.
Grandma: You can’t have a rainbow, without a little rain.
Grandson: What?
Grandma: (laughs) You’re too young to know who Dolly Parton is. What I mean is that science, as all things in life take time. Back in the day we didn’t have apricots all year around you know? We had to wait, and work hard.
Grandson: You’re probably right.
Grandma: Of course I am! The presenter on the TV said that the virus trial would take more than a year even if they rush it, so I guess this will take even longer.
Grandson: The development of senolytics is quite recent, as well as the identification of cell targets that we can use to fight against them. Interestingly, some of these molecules have been used for years now, like some cardiac glycosides, used to treat other heart problems.
Besides, these drugs have shown, at least in mice, that they can rejuvenate tissues by killing senescent cells and even help you with your arthritis.
Grandma: Being old has its perk too.
Grandson: Unfortunately, coming up with functional and secure drugs to help with cancer treatments is still quite far; too far for many who need it now.
Grandma: Things take time son, you have plenty of it (stares with that gaze only age can provide) .


The End

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