I just got back from a pretty incredible two week trip to Ireland — my son’s choice for a high school graduation experience. I don’t often get away from work for this long; when I do it always strikes me how long it takes to reset my brain, and also how worthwhile it is to do that occasionally.
We pretty much circled the country by car, starting in Dublin, heading down through Cork to the Sheep’s Head Peninsula, up past the Cliffs of Moher, through Galway and Connemara before heading back out from Shannon. I learned a ton about the creation of the Irish republic, shot clay pigeons and archery targets, hiked over mountains and though more than a few herds of sheep, toured the Guinness factory and Arsenal stadium (ok that was in London), learned about hurling and the GAA, watched Connor kiss the Blarney stone (did not partake myself), walked though passage tombs created long before the pyramids, and ate a truly ridiculous number of full Irish breakfasts.
Travelling reminds me that the world is a big place — and that there are literally thousands of interesting and useful ways to spend the eighty or so years we get here. But as much as I love to explore, at the end of the day there’s nothing better for me to do right now than contribute to the work we’re doing at Adaptive.
On the very last day of our trip, my wife, who is on hard-core immuno-suppressants for Lupus, picked up a bug — so after a very (very) challenging travel day home, we headed directly from SeaTac to the hospital. She’s on the mend and the folks at Overlake are taking good care of her, but what a bummer. Yet at the same time, it’s a powerful reminder of why I’m motivated to show back up at work tomorrow morning and dig back in.
Most people don’t understand that our best defense against auto-immune conditions like Lupus is to literally turn off the immune system. That’s right — we know so little about what is going on, that all we can really do is use chemo drugs like Methotrexate or transplant drugs like Cellcept to tell our bodies to stop fighting everything, good or bad.
Obviously, this leaves folks in a pretty vulnerable state. Any minor virus or other baddie has pretty much a free ticket to party. So life for auto-immune patients becomes a balancing game … turn off immunity until you get sick, then try to turn it back on so you can get better, hopefully enough to kill the real bad guys without inflicting too much damage on your own body.
It’s kind of ridiculous really — how little we know and how crude our tools are. I know I’ve said that before, but it is incredibly striking. Break through the complicated jargon we use to classify things, and again and again the reality is … we just don’t know that much.
But the reason humans are awesome is that we just keep swimming — knocking down questions one after another until we get to solutions. And while usually this process is just a grind, once in awhile you make a big leap — and the tests we do at Adaptive are helping to enable and accelerate some seriously huge leaps in our understanding of the immune system. And I get to be a part of that.
So vacation was great, but tomorrow bright and early, I’ll head on over the bridge and get back to work. The next release of the immunoSEQ Analyzer is going to be awesome … can’t wait to put it in the hands of our research partners.