Have you ever wanted to feel like the least-educated or least-intelligent person in the room? Go to a scientific conference, like I did last week for the Melanoma Research Alliance’s annual Scientific Retreat. Biology and chemistry zoomed by me in a flurry of industry terms: Heterozygosity? Intratumoral immunity?? Agonistic anti-CD-40 antibodies??? What the heck was did that just mean? At some point, I stopped taking notes; there were too many words to look up.
It’s not like dorky stuff is new for me; besides working in IT, I went to a school widely considered among the nerdiest and geekiest out there – CMU’s biggest football crowd was the game they passed out free floppy disks. For you kids, floppy disks look like the “Save” button and were the best way to keep data back in the Stone Ages, and your Facebook profile picture probably would be too big to fit on one. Unless, of course, it was double-sided, double-density. I digress… before I turn into my Dad.
So when I sat down amongst many of the brightest names in melanoma research and development, I figured I would be in over my head. What I didn’t realize was that the ceiling cathedraled so far up. The MRA brings together top-of-the-food-chain types from various academic, pharmaceutical, industrial, and governmental stakeholders in melanoma treatment — plus one fish-out-of-water dude with a laptop, a blog, and some receding tumors (there were a few other patients there, too, so I wasn’t entirely alone in this). They spoke a language I kinda-sorta barely understood; it’s like watching Telemundo after one year of high school Spanish.
I wrote about the MRA fundraiser at the end of last year; their model is to raise substantial capital, then grant that money out, with the premise that researchers share what they learn. This enables the pace of melanoma research to increase exponentially. The conference was the annual presentation of that research, much of it unpublished and/or preliminary findings. Part of what makes the event so unique is being an open, collaborative forum for doctors to discuss findings and their peers to weigh in with observation, suggestion, and some candid discussion. It is designed much differently from the public, published releases of studies most people are used to seeing, and enables the participants to speak without reservation.