An Ancient Inspiration
From dinosaur diseases to laboratory medicine – a journey of curiosity
“Did dinosaurs get cancer?” My simple question kicked off a less-than-typical dinner conversation back in the early 1990s – but I firmly believed it raised a valid scientific point. After all, modern animals can and do develop the disease, so why shouldn’t it have existed in prehistory?
Of course, when I asked the question, Google was unheard-of and children’s encyclopedias focused mainly on the all-important questions of how big dinosaurs were, where they lived, and what they ate. That’s not to say those factors couldn’t have influenced their health, but it seemed no one was able to tell me what I wanted to know.
Now, over two decades later, I not only have my answer, but I’ve also had the privilege of getting to know people who can address every facet of my question. Of course, there are the modern-day pathologists and laboratory medicine professionals, who generously share their expertise on all kinds of disease. There are paleopathologists who have told me about their work on ancient humans. And there are paleopathologists who work on much older fossils, who have not only assured me that, “Yes, dinosaurs did get cancer,” but explained in detail how we can be so certain – to the point where I’m pleased to feature it on the cover of this month’s issue of The Pathologist!
It’s a story I’ve heard all over science and medicine – a childhood curiosity or inspiration that led, eventually, to a career in the laboratory. Of course, as children, many of us weren’t even aware of the term “pathologist” – so we couldn’t have considered it as a career option. And that’s something I’d like to see change – but, regardless of whether or not children know the words for such professions, it’s important for us to ensure that we welcome and encourage the next generation of potential laboratorians.
Some may be inspired by questions that find us on familiar ground (for instance, I was recently asked what blood is made of). Others may want to know about more esoteric subjects… To which end, if you feel the need to shore up your knowledge of dinosaur diseases, enjoy our feature. Only by fostering natural and open curiosity can we help others see that, in science, all roads eventually lead to the laboratory – and the laboratory itself can lead anywhere!
While obtaining degrees in biology from the University of Alberta and biochemistry from Penn State College of Medicine, I worked as a freelance science and medical writer. I was able to hone my skills in research, presentation and scientific writing by assembling grants and journal articles, speaking at international conferences, and consulting on topics ranging from medical education to comic book science. As much as I’ve enjoyed designing new bacteria and plausible superheroes, though, I’m more pleased than ever to be at Texere, using my writing and editing skills to create great content for a professional audience.