Last week I did the Three Minute Thesis competition at Vanderbilt, which is basically a contest where graduate students present their research topic to a general audience in three minutes. You have to keep the science simple yet intriguing enough for the audience to want more. The organizers advertise it as great practice for elevator conversation but let’s be real, people are going to awkwardly ignore each other and check their phones in the elevator. Plus, a three minute elevator ride only happens in a skyscraper or an old, run-down building.
Anyways, I didn’t win it but I do want to share the most awesomest feedback I have ever gotten:
Because of this, I’m still running high on my newfound motivation to do more science outreach. I’ve got a few good ideas so I will keep you posted on what comes out of it. I also remembered I need to catch up on COSMOS, which I hear is amazing thus far.
For any of you interested in learning more about the 3MT competition, please visit their website . For those of you interested in what my three minute thesis was, here’s the draft I made for my speech. The title is Dock It Like It’s Hot: Challenges of Modern Drug Discovery. I did my best to be funny but unfortunately on the day of, I had to go after a talk on childhood cancers.
I’m a big Doctor Who fan so let’s time travel for a moment back to Elizabethan England, to the height of Shakespeare, the Renaissance, and crazy medical practices. If you had a sore throat, you might be prescribed slime from a garden snail. A toothache is treated with paste made from a mouse. Yuck! It’s no wonder these remedies didn’t work because doctors had little knowledge of how medicines worked. Fortunately, we’ve since learned a thing or two about both WHAT we should take and about HOW those drugs worked. Modern drug discovery though still has its own challenges, thanks to a few very large numbers.
It is estimated that there are 10^33 potential drugs out there. That’s 1 followed by 33 zeros! If we were to make a single pill for each of those drugs, the total would weigh as much as the sun.
Understanding how a particular drug works isn’t easy either. We know drugs act by binding to specific microscopic machinery in our body called proteins, similar to the way a key opens a particular lock. What makes it difficult is that there are 100,000 different types of proteins in our body. Imagine trying to figure out which lock a particular key opened in a building with 100,000 doors. What a nightmare. This makes it impossible for scientists to test everything by hand.
Enter the computer. The smart phone in your pocket is a computer capable of performing a billion calculations every second. There are supercomputers out there that are even faster. Why wouldn’t we harness this immense resource to help us find and understand the next generation of therapeutics?
Researchers have developed two separate set of computer software for drug discovery. Virtual screening help us filter down the near infinite list of possible drugs to a testable list of thousands. Molecular docking helps us understand how a specific drug unlocks a target protein.
My research focuses on bridging the gap between the two sides. I want to integrate our knowledge of WHAT drugs work from screening to help us figure out HOW they work through docking. For example, this morning I woke up with allergies and had to take a Claritin before coming here. Some of you might have had a similar experience but took an Allegra or a Benadryl instead. If we compare and contrast these drugs, we can gain insight into on how they work to treat the same symptoms. Let’s tackle the challenges of modern drug discovery by combining the WHAT question with the HOW question.
I like to leave you with some lyrics from the Snoop Dogg song that inspired the title of my presentation, “You should think about it, take a second. Matter fact, you should take four. “