Bill Snyder
Published: February, 2003

Bill Snyder
Editor, Lens Magazine
For more than 20 years, Snyder covered health care and medical research for daily newspapers, including The Tennessean and Nashville Banner in Nashville.
Photo by Dean Dixon
Imagine yourself driving in the country in a convertible, watching the grassy fields roll by, feeling the wind in your face. Much of what you’re experiencing—including the ability to grasp the steering wheel and hear the music on the radio—is due to the actions and interactions of microscopic protein molecules in your nerves, your muscles, your eyes and ears.

Now imagine the interior of your body: the antibodies (also proteins) that fight infection, the complex symphony of protein messages that tell your tissues to grow or not to grow, the signals transmitted by proteins across synaptic junctions in your brain that enable you to think.

Imagine if something goes wrong with some of your proteins, and your body’s immune system mistakes your own tissues for bacterial invaders, or because of poorly translated instructions some cells begin to grow out of control, or the signaling across the synapse is disrupted. You may develop an illness like multiple sclerosis or cancer or depression.

Just as the development of the microscope in the 17th Century enabled people to see what was previously un-seeable, today we’re going through a similar perceptual revolution. Our modern medicine currently can address only the symptoms or consequences of many illnesses, ranging from dementia to diabetes. But now, through advances in genomics and computer science, we are beginning to appreciate the pervasive role that proteins play in maintaining health or causing disease.

Thanks to technologies like mass spectrometry, protein “chips” and bioinformatics, we are now able to examine nature through a new lens, one that may enable us for the first time to understand the root causes of many diseases, to stop them more successfully than we ever have before, and ultimately to prevent them from occurring in the first place.

This lens is not the private property of doctors or scientists. It is available to all who would look through it.

That is why we at Vanderbilt University Medical Center have produced a new publication accessible to the general public. In this and future issues, we will examine the frontiers of biological science and medical research, and how the new knowledge gained from these inquiries may affect our lives.

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