Friday, September 5, 2014

Peter Doherty

Today I'm going to learn about Peter Doherty.

I came across a question about Doherty yesterday while playing QuizUp. All I know for now is that he is known for his work in the medical field. What did he do? Let me go find out....

Well, Lord Wiki says he's veterinary surgeon. And he's a medical researcher.

I'm reading a book about animals right now. It's a children's book called The One and Only Ivan. It's very sad. It's kind of like Charlotte's Web, but instead of being about farm animals, it's about the exotic animal industry.

As for Doherty, he's won a lot of awards. In 1996, he won a shared Nobel medicine award with a guy named Rolf M. Zinkernagel. That's an interesting name.

In 1997, Doherty was Australian of the year.

And he's on the list of the Australian National Trust's Living Treasures.

What did Doherty do to earn himself all these honors? Lord Wiki is trying to explain it to me. I don't understand, really. It has something to do with viruses and immunity.

And T-cells are involved. Aren't those the ones associated with AIDS? I'll check in a minute.

So far what I'm getting is, it's something like this. A virus invades our cells and starts reproducing. Then the T-cells come along and destroy the infected cells. It reminds me of movies where a city is under siege by something awful—like zombies. And then the government tries to contain the situation by bombing the city.

As for AIDS, I'm looking at this website now. I think I did have my facts straight. HIV lowers the number of T-cells, and then you end up with an immunity problem.

Now I'm going to see what Lord Wiki has to say about Peter Doherty's personal life.

He was born in Brisbane on October 15, 1940.

His mom's name is Linda. His dad is Eric. He has a young brother named Ian.

You know...I'm thinking there's a good chance that Linda and Eric are no longer living. But then again, it's possible that they are.

For his education, Doherty went to Indooroopilly State High School.  That's such an interesting name. I've heard it before, but I don't think I've ever really thought about it.  What does it mean? Is it named after someone? Does it have something to do with being indoors? Kangaroos?

I'm consulting Lord Wiki about this. He says it's a corruption of an Aboriginal word. The word means either gully of the leeches or gully of running water. Lord Wiki's not sure.

Lord Wiki is smart, but he doesn't know everything.

Back to Peter Doherty....

He studied veterinarian science at the University of Queensland. There he got his Bachelor's and Master's Degree. For his doctorate, he went all the way over to Scotland for the University of Edinburgh.

Doherty did his Noble prize-earning research in Canberra at the John Curtin School of Medical Research.

Lord Wiki says he currently spends three months a year working at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Tennessee.

I'm getting the idea that maybe he dropped the vet stuff. It seems like his interest is more with human medical concerns than animal ones.

Lord Wiki says Doherty wrote some books. I'm looking at one of them now. It's called The Beginner's Guide To Winning The Noble Prize: Advice for Young Scientists.  From the title, I was thinking it sounds Doherty is a bit up himself. But looking at the reviews, it sounds like the book is more of a memoir. And maybe the title is just his way of being cute and clever.

It seems like the book might be interesting.

There's a book by Doherty called A Light History of Hot Air. I'm confused over what it's supposed to be about. From the Sydney Morning Herald review I just read, I get the idea it's just interesting and entertaining ramblings written by a smart guy.

And Doherty also has a book about birds called Sentinel Chickens: What Birds Tell Us About Our Health And Our World.  This review makes it sound very interesting.

All his books sound appealing to me, actually.

I'm looking at They have some Peter Doherty books that Lord Wiki didn't mention. One of them is called Pandemics: (What Everyone Needs To Know)

They have one of his books at the Fort Worth library. I want to add it to my to-read list, but I've made a rule about not adding books because my list is too long. So I just bookmarked the page from my library. When my list gets shorter, I'll add it. It's my rather silly way of circumventing my stupid rules.

I really need to read more often so my list hurries up and shortens.

Here's Doherty's page at St. Jude.  I feel I should comment on it. But I have nothing to say.

At the University of Melbourne, there's a Peter Doherty Institute.  They list Doherty's achievements and honors. It's impressive.  He has honorary degrees from sixteen universities. Although that probably happens to a lot of Noble Prize winners.

How many honorary degrees does Stephen Hawkins have?

According to this website, only twelve. Doherty has beaten him. And I don't see anything about the Noble prize on this page. Maybe Hawkins hasn't won one. But he's gotten a much better honor. He's guest-starred on The Big Bang Theory. And there's a movie coming out about his life. It looks really good.

Here's the vision statement for the Peter Doherty Institute. I guess they haven't finished building it yet. It sounds like something that's supposed to exist in the future.

It sounds like a good thing. They're going to use the building for both research and clinical services.

It's one of those places that might save us all from a pandemic.

Here's a page about their research.  One of their focuses is HIV and T-cells.  And they're doing something (I don't quite understand) that they hope leads to a vaccine for Malaria. That would be good!

They're also working against various microscopic villains—E Coli, Salmonella, a super villain called Golden Staph, and others.

Since I'm a germophobic person, Peter Doherty and his team are kind of like superheroes to me.

According to their FAQ page, the Peter Doherty Institute is not only working to save us from tiny killers, but they care about the planet as well. The building has been given 5 stars by the Green Building Council of Australia.

I'm going to read the Australian Academy of Science's interview with Doherty.

The introduction of the interview says, Imagine going to a school where you're not allowed to do biology because you happen to be a boy. That's not something I've encountered before. I've heard of girls being restricted from studying things like science, but not boys. Was this school very unusual? Or does this happen more often then I'd imagine?

Doherty repeats the forbidden-biology thing in his answer about his schools. I don't get it. And he doesn't really explain. Maybe I need to read his books.

He says, though, that he was a dreamy bookworm type kid who was actually more interested in the literary world than science.  But then I guess that changed.

Doherty says his cousin was a virologist and this is what sparked his interest in disease and science.

And he wanted to be a vet so he could make the world a better place by finding a way to increase food production. At first, I thought he meant create more food for the animals. But I think he's referring to people. So I'm getting the idea that this isn't a guy who became a vet because he loves animals.  For him it was more about helping a specific species of animal—humans.

Doherty says by the time he got his vet qualifications, he realized the food thing was more a job for agricultural, economic, and political folks. Isn't that a common story. You work and pay for a degree. Then you realize it's not really going to help you achieve the goals you had in mind.

Now they're talking about the Noble-worthy discoveries. I don't understand it, and I'm not going to exercise my brain right now trying to figure it out. I'll just trust that they knew what they're doing, and that it was very important stuff.

I like what Doherty says here about being successful in science. His advice:
You've got to be very persistent and totally absorbed in what you do. You need to have an open mind, and be prepared to drop one line of inquiry and follow another if it looks interesting. We never set out to make our discovery – we weren't aiming in that direction at all. But when we found something unexpected we followed it.

I think that mindset is more beneficial to the world than one in which scientists have an idea and set out to prove they're right. With the latter attitude, I fear people will ignore evidence that contradicts with what they believe.

Doherty talks about basic vs. applied science. Or as he calls it: curiosity driven vs. end-use driven. The government favors the latter, but he thinks curiosity research is important as well.

That makes sense, but I'm thinking of the benefits in terms of end-use. I'm thinking if scientists learn things just because they're curious, they might end up finding something really useful. But if they don't find anything useful, is it worthwhile?

 I'd say it depends. It's sad if a lot of money is used, and it ends up leading nowhere. And if animals are used, I think that's really sad.  I think it's sad enough for someone to use mice in a study, because they want to find a treatment to lengthen the lives of people with Cystic Fibrosis. But then I think, well, my brother-in-laws have that, and I WOULD like them to be healthier. So, yeah....sad about the mice. But oh well.

What if there's a group of scientists who cause physical harm to mice simply because they're curious about something? That seems wrong to me.

On the other hand, what if their research accidentally leads to someone finding a treatment for Motor Neuron disease, or something that will help us fight against the Norovirus?

I guess my feeling is, I'm against science that's done just for the hell of it. I wouldn't want to donate money to a project with the mindset. This probably won't ever help anyone...but I'm curious. I just want to know! So let's try to find out.  But I'm okay supporting projects with the mindset...Well, we're not sure how or who this is going to help, but we have a feeling it's going to benefit the universe in some way.  We just don't know how yet.  I'm cool with that.

I'm Googling now—trying to figure out more about why Doherty wasn't allowed to study biology. I'm not having any luck. Have any of you heard of such a practice? It would have been in the late 1950's and early 1960's.

The Noble Prize website has a biography about Doherty written by Doherty. I'll read that and see if it has anything about the forbidden-biology; or anything else interesting.

There's a lot of family stuff here. He talks about his two grandmothers. Doherty says, they embraced the informal Australian life style with great enthusiasm. I like that. You know I'm sometimes asked what I love about Australia, and I forget to mention that.I like relaxed atmospheres—places where people don't wear shoes. I mean not that all of Australia is like that. But some of it is.

Doherty's father was a telephone mechanic. His father (Doherty's grandpa) died from the 1918-1919 flu epidemic)

Doherty's mother was a piano teacher and also played a lot of tennis.

I like learning all this family stuff.

Doherty says his mother passed on her love of classical music to him, but not her tennis-playing skills.

One of his uncles was captured by the Japanese, and then killed by the Americans, because the Americans hit the submarine that was transporting him.

Doherty has fair-skin and that made it difficult for him to be one of those outdoor Aussie types.  But he still did some outdoor canoeing.

And he does carpentry. He's built coffee tables.

What does this guy not do?

He's like perfect. Except for the tennis thing. But he's probably just being modest about that.

I bet he's at least better than me at tennis.

I see the biology stuff here. Doherty says in that time, in Queensland, biology could be studied by only girls. Wow. I wonder why.

I just skimmed a bunch of paragraphs and then stopped at the part about Doherty going to school in Edinburgh. This was when he already had a wife. Doherty talks about how he could spend more time outside there without worrying about sunburn. There's more of a risk of sun injury in Australia.

Yeah. This website says Australia has the highest rate of Melanoma.

Doherty had a bad time from 1982-1988. He didn't like his job. It was at the JCSMR. What's that?

Oh! The John Curtin School of Medical Research. Yikes. Am I reading all this right?

He's negative about the place, but also positive. He says he worked with some excellent colleagues.  And he says things have gotten better there.  Why are they better? Doherty mentions the retirement of the tenured staff and the adoption of a more flexible appointment structure.  That might provide some clues about what he didn't like there. Maybe the appointment structure was too rigid? I have no idea what that means. Oh well. And maybe he didn't like some of the staff. It seems he's glad they're gone.

I just reread some of the preceding paragraphs to clarify something. Well, because before I was just skimming. So...if I'm understanding things right. 1982-1988 was Doherty's second time working at JCSMR. He worked there previously in the 1970's, and it seems his experiences then were more positive.

I'm going to read this one last thing by Doherty. It's about pandemics.   Then I'll quit, so I can get more book reading done—work on shortening my to-read list.

Doherty says in the 1960's there was a mindset that our fight with infectious disease was over. Doherty points out how wrong that turned out to be. He mentions things like HIV, SARS, antibiotic resistant bacteria, influenza, etc.

It seems what Doherty is saying here is that there's good news and bad news. The bad news is there's scary bad shit out there that can kill a lot of us. The good news is the scientist superheroes are doing a lot to try and save us.