Yvonne Carts-Powell

Regenerating eyes (and the vicissitudes of a writing life)

In Science on September 9, 2010 at 2:26 pm

Dr. May Griffith displays a biosynthetic cornea that can be implanted into the eye to repair damage and restore sight. Photo courtesy of the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute.

I just published a short article (for OPN again) about a human trial of a biosynthetic cornea. It’s the sort of story that elicits both my excitement and regret.

I love to report on research that may make a dramatic difference in a lot of people’s lives: diseases that lead to clouding of the cornea represent the most common cause of blindness. If this approach continues to be as promising as it appears now, it could provide sight to millions of people who are partially or completely blind now. Not as importantly, but just as enjoyably, I also very much appreciate the chance to ask questions of researchers — in this case, it was May Griffith, who is not only a medical doctor, but also a PhD, and also an MBA. Not to mention being a Senior Scientist at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute in Canada, Professor at the University of Ottawa (Faculty of Medicine) and Professor of Regenerative Medicine and Director of the Integrative Regenerative Medicine Centre at Linköping University in Sweden. (Wow!) As a rule, research scientists and engineers are passionate and helpful when explaining their work, and I always appreciate the time they spend with me. This is one of the things I adore about science writing!

My regret is that when I write a story like this, I have to leave it behind. There are a dozen different stories that I could tell, with this as a starting point. But editors contract with me to write a certain number of words to fit their publication’s format (and the cardinal rule of freelancing is to give editors what they want, when they want it). I could easily have written a story twice as long, or expanded the story to look at more research on corneas (such as this story about synthetic corneas developed in Germany at the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP in Potsdam-Golm, plus a bunch of the research on replacing or repairing damaged retinas — or spinning out into a story about how collagen scaffolding can provide a matrix for growing replacement organs in glass or in the body. I love science writing, but there are only so many stories I can follow and to make it a business, I have to find editors who will pay for the work.

That said, I’m setting the eyes aside for a moment, because an editor just sent me a journal paper on how cholesterol acts on the surface of cells. I don’t understand it yet, but I will, and then I’ll get to talk to the smart folks who did the work, and then I’ll get to explain it in print. And then I’ll get paid. By which time, I’ll be on to something else.


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