Monday, July 30, 2007

Not So Anonymous

Today was "The Great Thaw-Out" in which 95 unique plasma samples were unfrozen in preparation for analysis. Looking at the panel of samples, it was an interesting thought experiment for me to imagine that the tray contained nearly 100 individuals who were, in a sense, "frozen in time." The majority of the patients are deceased, but their plasma lives on in a strange way. I wonder if the plasma contains not just proteins and cells existing at a particular moment in the past, but also the individual's thoughts, feelings, hopes, fears and expectations of the future. In contrast, most of the healthy control plasma contains the barest of of collection and initials. Anonymous donors who donated some sangre and moved on with their lives.

I was reluctant to include my frozen plasma in the panel because (a) it seems a bit tacky and (b) I'm not exactly age-matched to most of the cancer patients. But one of the control samples had a cracked side, and so it was thrown out. In exchange, I had to choose between my plasma and a friend's plasma (also originally excluded based on age) as a replacement. So I did what any scientist would do...I flipped a coin in my pocket and Hamilton said that my plasma was going in.

Talking to Joe about the plasma database, I mentioned how most of the patients were familiar to me, how I had met them personally and knew their clinical histories fairly intimately already.

Joe raised his eyebrow and lifted a tube containing straw-colored serum, labeled "SC 7/19/06."

"You mean like this one?" Joe said.

"Oh, man, that one," I rolled my eyes dramatically, "The stories I could tell!"

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