We're a little crazy, about science!

Return of the “technique”

splatter color brain

With all the excitement around here with the progress made towards making “big idea” a reality, you may think that I’ve forgotten about other projects and things I’m working on. That isn’t the case and I have other exciting updates regarding something I’ve been calling my “super secret technique” not the most descriptive name, but that’s sort of the point. It’s not “big idea,” but is sure isn’t a tiny idea either.

For those who have no idea what I’m talking about a quick recap since we haven’t talked super secret technique in a while. A little over three years ago when I first set foot into the lab I’m doing my PhD in, I brought with me what I like to think of as a different way to see the world. I constantly talk about being “crazy” in the literal sense and I try to embrace that now instead of shying away from it. We can say mentally ill if you’d like, but crazy just sounds more fun. Maybe being crazy works in my benefit, at least in the case of doing research, because I found a rather large (and to me obvious) gap in the work my lab was doing. After digging into it, I realized no one had ever done it.

Now that doesn’t mean it can be done, there is no journal of null results, but oh do I wish I had the time to create one. That was the birth of “super secret technique” or, for brevity, SST. It was the start of a long, tough journey of convincing people around me that it would work or at least that we should try it. The problem with being the first, especially in a field like this, is that no one seems to think that anything that groundbreaking could work or someone would’ve done it already. I agree, but I’m a firm believer that if you don’t look, you’ll never find anything. So I set out to see if “super secret technique” would actually work.

A year later I presented my work and passed my qualifying exam by demonstrating (n = 1) SST in action. The results were so startling good that I had to clarify that this could very well be some error or source of noise, but I accounted for everything I could think of and we still got this result. And for the last two years or so SST sat on a shelf while I tried to get people interested in the idea.

A big issue with research is funding. I like to eat and have a roof over my head, so money is needed and I had no funding source for SST and no one to offer me the time to look at it. I did find pockets of time over the last few years to do research toward SST and I’ve had mixed results. I’ve learned that SST is finicky, there are probably very strict limitations on how it can work and who it can work on that I’m still working out. I’ve also learned that researchers are hard to convince, but last year I had come up with a better way of doing SST. Or rather a better way of proving SST really was doing what I think it was doing. So last December after a lot of back and forth with another researcher (almost a full year of back and forth) we got access to some really (outrageously) expensive equipment to test SST in a way that would make hospital-PI a little more comfortable with the idea (this post talks about that).

Somewhat of a side note, if I can convince hospital-PI then I can convince just about anyone, he’s been both the biggest proponent and critic of SST since I first spoke about the method. Anyway, back in December we collected some data that would help answer once and for all the question of whether SST works or not. And for the past few months the data sat on my computer, untouched, unloved, and alone *sad face* that is until last week when I finally had a few days (yes, days) to process the dataset.

Half the problem was it was in a format I had never worked with so I needed a few days just to figure out how it was organized and how to pull out the information I wanted. Thankfully, after some data processing and reorganizing the data in a way that made sense to me, I was ready to see if I had something worth showing. Let’s just say that I didn’t sleep Sunday night after I saw the results because I was so excited to show hospital-PI.

Last Monday we sat down and I had the chance to show him the results of SST. It was “quick and dirty.” In other words, not a great presentation, but it was an honest one. I picked several of the trials at random to show, I didn’t cherry pick my favorites (I don’t even have favorites yet because I’ve barely had a chance to play with the data). And for about 30 minutes or so we went back and forth about what I was showing, what it meant, and how to better present it. That last part I already knew, but I didn’t have time to make fancy figures when I wanted him to see it ASAP.

The results I showed him were hard to argue against, we found exactly what I expected to find, exactly where I expected to find it and literally nothing else close to explain it away as noise. I’m happy to say this was even clearer than I would’ve dared to wish for. It’s yet another n = 1 study, but it is damn promising. So promising in fact that hosptial-PI has requested not one, but two of those very expensive devices we used to collect the data so we can continue the work. Again, not conclusive, but promising enough to spend a large chunk of money on. (I feel like I need to qualify SST anytime I talk about it since we’re still not sure it’s “real,” but I want it to be real so, so badly)

Recently SST was funded through a grant I was awarded, or rather the school lab was awarded (here). I can confidently say I was awarded though because my name was on the grant (unlike the R21 which I ghost wrote, a standard practice as a grad student). That made me nervous though because we’ve yet to show SST works and I don’t want to over promise and under deliver. Now I have both school lab and hospital lab interested in SST and since it’s the topic of my dissertation that’s good news for me.

Now for some other hints about both SST and big idea. They are related. In fact, big idea is a way for me to validate SST. Unfortunately big idea is invasive and was born from an idea I had in the OR so it can only be used on a very small subset of people, but SST is the more generalized version (non-invasive). The reason I think big idea is a more of an advance is because big idea will be easier to show working, will give us a clearer dataset, and will be harder to refute. It will be the stepping stone to proving SST works and while both have their place, I’m partial to big idea for the amount of data we will get out of it.

SST is and has been the original “big idea.” Until recently I only dreamed of getting the data big idea will give us. Since they are two sides of the same coin, I’m happy to be spearheading both projects one for work and one for school. The good thing about SST, and the reason it will be faster, is that it’s non-invasive and we have someone willing to collaborate with us until we get the equipment at the hospital. Plus on the school side I have the original equipment I used to collect the first SST dataset, so I’ve got a nice path carved out for myself now.

Obviously I can’t share what SST is or what big idea is… yet. However, since most of you are regular readers and I can’t tease forever, I’ve decided there’s no harm in sharing one of the figures I made for hospital-PI. Three years of work and I am finally sharing something, I know, long wait. While this won’t make any sense to anyone but me, here we go. That bright yellow spot about 1/8 over from the left and 5/8 down from the top? That’s SST in action, exactly where I was hoping to find it and best of all, no other bright areas in the entire image! Isn’t it beautiful?

The bright yellow blob is SST. I couldn’t have hoped for a clearer result. While not conclusive (as in, we need far more subjects), it convinced hospital-PI enough to keep going with the work.

So as usual, it’s time for the mushy stuff. Thanks to all of you for following, supporting, and encouraging me along the way. I’m still far from the end of the journey, if anything I’m just starting now, but if it weren’t for all of you who drop in on a regular basis, like, comment, email, and even just read regularly, none of this would be happening right now. It may not feel like it, but that figure is as much yours as it is mine. Thank you, all of you.


3 responses

  1. There’s a quote I see going around every so often … something like “I love engineers because they’re the people who can get really excited about seeing a squiggly line.” I know it’s true, because I’ve been the one excited about the line before. Congratulations, my friend, on your lovely yellow star there. Whatever its hidden meaning might be.

    I was wondering whether big idea or SST was your favorite now, and I didn’t realize they were related! I’m glad you ended up finessing out a way to work on both projects. Things seem to be coming together quite well. I’m very happy for you.

    Liked by 1 person

    February 5, 2022 at 3:51 pm

    • Thank you! Funny enough the last iteration of my SST was just a line and it was equally exciting. haha

      I am excited to finally get to start sharing more of this stuff as it comes. This year will be the last year I refer to it as SST (and big idea frankly). So the yellow star looking thing will make more sense in the coming months.

      Thanks again! You’re amazing and I appreciate the support.

      Liked by 1 person

      February 6, 2022 at 11:05 am

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