lab prattle

In recent interactions with a woman, founder of a 508(c)(1)(a) to whom I might eventually consult, she took me up on my offer to prattle on about my virology lab experience.  As her organization deals with consequences of a particular virus, she might be interested in knowing where I’m coming from.   Here’s what I told her:

My CV (1) has a listing of my lab experience (a post-retirement embellishment), but I offered a prattle and you said bring it on, so here goes.  I stumbled through U of M undergrad, finally collecting enough science credits to get pre-med pre-reqs and a Zoology degree in ‘74, doing well enough on MCATs to make it look like I’d have a chance at med school.  Since I didn’t do that in time to enter med school right after graduation, I went to grad school in microbiology.  In the mid 70s, molecular techniques like restriction enzymes were just emerging which would turn virology into such a hot area.  My classroom success didn’t translate to the lab, but I spent time in the lab of up-and-comer Tony Faras working on retroviruses, RNA viruses implicated in cancer.  Maybe my experiments fell flat, but I learned the lingo.  When Tony went back home to Minnesota, I hooked up with Bill Murphy, who was working with slow viruses, like visna and kuru, which cause no symptoms for a long time after they infect, then disaster happens.  At the time they were thought to be implicated in Alzheimer’s.  HIV was a decade away from being discovered, but is now characterized as a slow virus.  Bill recognized my skills so I wrote proposals and did no bench work.   I would have done more with him had I made it into Michigan med school.  Instead, I had to settle for the University of Chicago.  There, I spent 2 semesters and a summer in Elliott Kieff’s lab.  His thing was Epstein-Barr virus, which has never not been interesting, given its role in lymphoma, autoimmune diseases, and even chronic fatigue.  I actually got a few things to work in his lab, tho’ nothing publishable.  For me, lab research was always a means to an end, with scholarships and posts open to those who had put time in the lab.   My tales of research experience impressed those interviewing me when I was seeking an Internal Medicine residency and I matched to an elite place, Barnes Hospital in St. Louis, a Wash U affiliate.  I got my first taste of rheumatology in med school but my experiences at Barnes convinced me that was where I belonged.  I may have overrated my assets as I sought a fellowship, as of Hopkins, UCSF, Barnes, and Michigan, only my home institution offered me a position.  That was fine with me as I enjoyed coming home, had a great fellowship experience, and a long satisfying career on faculty.  Research was expected of fellows, and Michigan had a unique young hotshot who was a virologist, Tom Schnitzer.  He was working with a reovirus that caused muscle inflammation, similar to what happens in the rare but important autoimmune disease polymyositis.  Again, I stumbled in the lab, but enjoyed other benefits, not the least of which was meeting my wife-to-be, then a PhD student with whom I was going to collaborate.  Plus, I’m sure I would not have been offered a job had I not done bench research.

I never returned to bench research, but realized that those who succeed there are a different breed.  Good for them.  But I’ve kept my interest in viruses and really enjoyed dusting off those chops starting in December ’19 when Mr. Corona first raised his spikey head.  I started blogging the next month and many of those posts were about coronavirus.  By June of ’21, I’d written enough to fill a book

Worth the 10 bucks (or $3 Kindle) if only to read “Fauci’s feeble-minded fear-filled followers”, inspired by an encounter with one of those in the woods.

You can check out my Amazon author page to see what else I’ve published

Well, that’s more than enough for now.  I look forward to talking with you next month.


  1.  Ike B.  My C.V. (updated). WordPress 10/1/22.

Published by rike52

I retired from the Rheumatology division of Michigan Medicine end of June '19 after 36 years there. Upon hitting Ann Arbor for the second time (I went to school here) it took me almost 8 months to meet Kathy, 17 months to buy her a house (on Harbal, where we still live), and 37 months to marry her. Kids never came, but we've been blessed with a crowd of colleagues, friends, neighbors and family that continues to grow. Lots of them are going to show up in this log eventually. Stay tuned.

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