Women of Medical Valor

Dr. Rena D’Souza
Dr. Lindsey Criswell

While this year has generally not been known for its kindness to most, August 2020 has been a friend to women. (No, Kamala, this blog is not about you, as unfortunately I pride myself on never mixing politics with pleasure aka medicine. Suffice to say, “well done.”) During this past month, two brilliant and talented women were promoted to prominent positions within the National Institutes of Health where they will be able to further lead, inspire, and heal. Worthy of note is that August is also the month when we celebrate Women’s Equality Day which commemorates August 18, 1920, the day when Congress ratified the iconic 19th amendment which granted women the right to vote. Coincidence? I’ll let you be the judge of that.

Allow me to introduce you to these two women. Rena N. D’Souza, D.D.S., M.S., Ph.D., has been chosen to serve as director of NIH’s National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR), which she plans on joining later this year. A licensed dentist, Dr. D’Souza is currently the assistant vice president for academic affairs and education for health sciences at the University of Utah, where she also serves as a professor. She has conducted research in craniofacial development, genetics, tooth development, and regenerative dental medicine. She has published 140 peer-reviewed journal papers and medical book chapters. She is also an exemplary role model of kindness as she has provided volunteer dentistry services to people in need. As a recipient of more dental procedures than I would like to keep track of, I can confidently attest to the value of her research and contributions. Massive thank you.

Our next female noteworthy of celebration is Lindsey A. Criswell, M.D., M.P.H., D.Sc., who has been chosen to direct NIH’s National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS). A rheumatologist, Dr. Criswell is currently the vice chancellor of research at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). She is a professor of rheumatology in UCSF’s Department of Medicine. She has been published in more than 200 peer-reviewed journal articles about genetics and epidemiology of autoimmune diseases, specifically on systemic lupus erythematosus and rheumatoid arthritis.

Thank you, Dr. D’Souza and Dr. Criswell, for leaning in and daring to ask through your actions, “What glass ceiling?” Watching you succeed from the sidelines makes me sorta kinda wonder what am I doing, sitting at an outdoor cafe on a beautiful August afternoon, writing about your achievements? How can I be more like you, and how can I help the masses on the grandest scale possible? For now, I will suffice with the following answer: I am promoting the fact that women can accomplish tremendous heights. They can exert sweat and toil (hopefully minus the blood and tears), and they can perform and produce professionally as well as (if not better than) any man. And by doing so, I hope to inspire more women to follow in your footsteps. So while I did not entitle this blog “You Go Girls” out of respect to these two fantastic females, I will conclude with, thank you for the inspiration and keep up the good work.

Uplifting Updates

During these uncertain and challenging times, we can all use some good news. On that note, it gives me great pleasure to share with you that scientists have confirmed that it is extremely rare for mothers to transmit SARS-CoV-2 virus (heretofore referred to by it’s colloquial name, covid-19) to their newborns…and why.

Researchers at the National Institutes of Health led by Dr. Roberto Romero reported on July 14, 2020, that the placenta lacks certain molecules used by the virus to cause the infection. To quickly recap biology 101, our genetic code and all important instructions which determine our traits are contained within our DNA, located in the nucleus of the cell. Messenger RNA, or mRNA, is a type of RNA which carries the information contained within the DNA to a different part of the cell, the ribosome, which is made of a different RNA called rRNA (ribosomal RNA). The ribosome translates the genetic code, or message, contained within the mRNA into proteins. Proteins are a crucial macromolecule necessary for function and survival, and many of them serve as enzymes, catalysts of chemical reactions which allow processes to operate smoothly as they should.

So what does all of this have to do with newborns and covid-19? The ACE2 receptor is the primary receptor on the cell surface used by covid-19 to cause infection. However, unlike adult cells, the membrane of the placenta (which houses the developing fetus) contains only a minute amount of the mRNA molecule which manufactures ACE2 receptors. Little to no mRNA means no receptors for the virus to mess with or wreak havoc upon. Furthermore, the placenta lacks (or contains only trace amounts of) a different kind of mRNA, the one that produces an enzyme called TMPRSS2. This is the enzyme the covid-19 uses to infiltrate cells. No enzyme, no entry, no infection.

In other good news, Moderna, a biotech company working on developing a vaccine, shared exciting news earlier this week. They reported that all 45 participants in Phase 1 of their drug trial produced antibodies in response to treatment. Phase 3 of the trial is due to begin later this month with 30,000 participants.  

While there are still many unknowns about this disease and much yet to be explored and tackled, including a vaccine, it is nice to report a modicum of good news. I hope to have the ability to continue sharing positive developments in the ensuing weeks and months. Until then, please maintain proper handwashing, wear a mask (not a chin guard), and stay safe.