Part Seven - Applications of Newton's Second Law
After an early dinner out, the two lovebirds drove into New Haven to the Yale Research Facility. Rachel's Porsche was already in the parking garage when they arrived. "You know you're lucky to have her?" Dana said of the computer whiz.
Grace smiled knowingly. She felt lucky and relaxed, but it was not because Rachel Jones was working on the cancer project. For the first time in months she was dressed casually in blue jeans and one of Dana's T-shirts because she liked the way it smelled. She and her lanky lover were unself-consciously holding hands while they strolled to the security desk. Grace signed Doc in and handed her the key card/badge to wear.
"You're nervous, Dana said after they passed through the electronic doors. She lifted a hand to her lips for a kiss as they rounded the corner and passed the administrator's office.
"No, actually I'm not. But I should be; my whole career is riding on this."
"You can always go back to saving lives as a real doctor. You remember that job you had that you liked."
"I'm still a doctor."
"No offense, Grace, but what you're doing now does not take the intellect of an M.D. It could be done by any suit who can count to ten a few million times."
The doctor's face darkened. "I'm offended," she said quietly. "What I'm doing here is very important."
"I didn't mean to sound condescending. What I meant was that you don't need four years of med school, three years of residency, and three years in the ER to run this program. Especially with all of the politicking and budgeting."
The feisty woman pulled her hand away. "There's a lot more to it than politics and budgets."
Dana tried to recover after the hand was abruptly withdrawn. "What I think is that you should be more involved with practicing medicine because you're a really wonderful doctor." Unfortunately, once she started being open, Doc really did not have any idea about when to stop. "You sit in your office all day or travel around the building to meetings babysitting egos and schmoozing the brass. I'm telling you that all it takes is a politician with a scientific calculator. Hell, a politician could probably do it in half the time while kissing some hairy suit's ass."
Grace grimaced. "Have you seen how hairy your ass is?"
"Funny." Dana was unamused as she held the door open. "I'm serious about this, and you're being mean."
"I'm trying not to take what you're saying too seriously, otherwise I would be quite ticked at you."
"For what? All I said was that you could be doing something more--"
"--I know exactly what you said." She was donning a pair of safety glasses and handed a pair to Doc.
"You don't enjoy your work."
Grace laughed. "No, I'm not enjoying this conversation about my work. Let's drop it."
"--Look, this was my choice. I have very good reasons for choosing this path, and it's not a whim or a part-time job." She turned away and started to walk to the back room where Rachel, Jack, and Sylvia were standing.
Dana's lips tightened into a firm line. "I'd like to know what those reasons are when you feel I'm capable of understanding them." She wound around the opposite side of the lab benches. Distance was necessary. Turning her attention to the three in the back who were watching them, she said, "What are you three waiting for? Betty Crocker? Take those cookies out of the oven before they burn."
Jack slid his arms into a pair of static-prevention gloves and entered the small, plexiglas-enclosed area called the hood room while Doc disengaged the carbonic-preparation apparatus from a control panel outside. Using a speaker, she told Jack that the machine was disengaged. He opened the lid to the billion-dollar pressure cooker and removed a foot-long silver cylinder, placing it into a hood which contained several spectrometers and an electronic MelTemp.
After air-locking the hood and decontaminating it, Jack showed Sylvia the procedure for testing the material for purity of the material, using the melting point. Then both he and Doc showed her how to use the optical spectrometer to evaluate the percentages of R-carbonic lattices and the unwanted mirror images. In this particular batch, the unwanted molecules numbered very few, less than five percent.
Doc removed her glasses and left the hood room, followed by Jack. "It's a really good batch," she told Jack.
"I figure maybe two passes through the filter should clean it up."
Doc nodded. "Why don't you run the filtering with Sylvia while Rachel cleans up the assembling program. Dr. Wilson can call the Rat people and pathologist to arrange for the trials." She addressed Grace. "We should be ready to go in three hours." Turning to the hacker, she said, "I'm going to work on a few adjustments for the assembly program, and I'll bring them to you for incorporation when I'm done." The orders given, she tossed her unused safety glasses onto the lab bench and left the lab.
The self-appointed keeper of the nanoverse settled herself at the conference room table. She tried to ignore the plastic taped across the missing wall and cracked her knuckles. Slipping her little rims from her pocket and setting them on her face, she verbally commanded a loaner laptop to life. She had downloaded as many files on small-cell carcinoma from as many on-line libraries around the world as she could find. The preliminary studies she had done on the Yale project were insufficient to take the project the next level up. But the disc she had given Grace when she thought she was going to die was meant to be only a starting point. Intent on taking that step, she scribbled notes while the computer read her information about what was important on the physiological systemic level and the cellular level.
The baseline had been nothing more than a nanomachine with strong enough propulsion mechanisms to move against the flow of blood in the veins. Now she was trying to add a mechanism for locating the tumor cells throughout the body. The first thing she needed to decide on was which chemical signal the nanomachines would follow that would lead them to the tumors. She had to admit that it would have been a lot easier to understand the pathology of the cancer with a microbiologist handy than to try to learn it all on her own. She should have asked Grace for help.
Instead, she stubbornly spoke her commands into the computer, trying to incorporate a receptor for G-enzymes secreted by malignant cells. She ran a loop to debug the code and discovered several syntax errors, which caused her to cuss extremely lewdly. Then she ran simulations using her rat program and the new model. The results were abominable, with less than ten percent of the tumors located. Dana pushed her glasses up to rest on her forehead while she rubbed her blurred eyes.
"Six percent?" Grace said behind her.
Dana stiffened at the comment.
"I thought we were closer to twenty percent without locators at all."
"I'm trying to up the efficiency before going to trials."
"I may be totally unqualified to say this, but I think the percentages are supposed to go up to be more efficient. But correct me if I'm off-base."
"Grace, I never said you were unqualified," she stated.
"Not 'whatever.'" Dana turned to her. "I said that what you were doing was beneath your capabilities."
"Curing cancer is not beneath me."
Dana rolled her eyes. "Okay, you keep collecting your reports and counting your pennies."
"That's an awfully hypocritical position for an extraordinary scientist who wastes her time gutting fish for a living."
"I don't gut them, I catch them. And the difference is that I like fishing. You hate what you're doing, and it's making you old and cranky."
"I don't hate it. Maybe you should ask me how I feel about things instead of telling me."
Dana offered a small smile as a peace offering. "Is that what I'm doing?"
"I'm sorry," Dana said softly. "I only want to see you happy again."
A small, smooth hand brushed a high cheekbone. "I know, but I don't need to be told what to do or how I feel. I have a mother for that, and that's why I live nine hundred miles away from her."
"Can you take some criticism?"
"Ugh, Dana, what now?"
"Hire a bean counter to run your budget and get more involved in the technical portion of the work. I guarantee it will lower your stress level and bring you closer to your people. Right now they see you as a suit."
"But you said it yourself; I don't know shit about nano."
"You can run the clinicals."
Grace scratched her chin and thought about the suggestion. "What else?"
"Volunteer one day a month at the clinic."
"I'll consider it. What else?"
Dana smiled. "Take off all of your clothes and dance a bump-and-grind on the table for me."
"It was worth a try." Dana pointed to her computer. "Help me with this."
"What's the problem?"
"The levels of G-enzyme secreted by the malignant cells in the anterior and posterior positions of the body are so diluted by the time the enzyme molecules reach the insertion point that the nanomachines cannot distinguish a direction to follow."
"Have you changed the variable range or the data bytes being scanned?"
"I've tried both increasing and decreasing, but nothing works. By the time the molecules reach the nanomachines, the concentration is too uniform and the probes can't detect a gradient."
"Hmmmm...what about tracking another secretion as well?"
"Grace, I'm not a doctor or a pathologist. Help me out."
"Okay, we're trying to detect malignant neoplasms, which are noncapsulated masses that secrete abnormal levels of the G-enzyme and a copious amount of oncogenic proteins."
"Wait right there." Doc woke her computer from its sleep. "Can you name some of these onco proteins?"
"Sure, there are k-ras, b-ras, m-ras, z-ras...."
"All malignant cells display these proteins?"
"No, k-ras is detectable in colon cancer, b-ras in some breast tumors, m-ras in liver cancer. But secondary cancer masses that develop from cancer cells that have metastasized will exhibit oncogenic proteins dependent on the type of cell they have invaded."
"Is it species-determined?"
"No, it's dependent on cell type: liver, neural, kidney, but not species-specific unless the species does not have a certain organ or cell type."
Doc rolled her neck. "We'll start with one protein and then add the function of detecting the others later. Let's see if I can find the protein structure in the Merck Molecular Database, and then I have to create a new receptor to detect the presence of the protein."
The two worked together, developing the additions to the modeled machine and its programming. Dana then added the oncogenic proteins to her stimulation program and began to run it. The results for rats with liver tumors came to seventy percent.
"How many injection sites are you using?"
"I was thinking six or seven would be more logical than one."
"Both femoral veins, the brachials, the external jugular, the inferior vena cava, and the hepatic."
"That would put a lot of undue stress on the patient. Don't we usually know where the cancer is?"
"Unless it has spread, which is very common in Stage III and Stage IV cancer cases."
"Then I would change the protocol for treatment for those cases only. But that's a good point. There's nothing keeping us from moving the point of entry closer to the known tumors as well. The nanomachines are going to have to swim upstream to the neoplasms no matter where we inject them. The closer they are to the target, the less energy they'll expend and the lower the chance of failure."
They varied the location and number of the injection points in the simulations, and the percentages of successes increased to eight.
"Much better," Grace said and pecked Dana on the cheek.
"The variable range is too high, and too many of the probes are misdirected." She resized the range and ran the simulations until she had reached ninety-five percent success.
"Good enough," Grace said. Dana transferred the probe assembly program to the network so that Rachel could download it into the assembly computer.
By seven a.m. Sunday, Grace was injecting one hundred white, furry, red-eyed rats with the latest version of the nanomachines. Some of the rodents had benign tumors, some were given cancerous tumors which were in various stages of severity, and then there were the temporarily healthy rats. Each rat was given eight hours with the locators in its body, and then they were all put to sleep and sliced up by the pathology techs. All of their vital organs were mounted on slides and viewed for abnormalities and the presence of locators. The tumors of the affected rats were also sliced, mounted, and surveyed.
By six Monday morning all of the data were compiled and Grace was wiped out. Doc had refused to have anything to do with the rats, being particularly fond of one blond chipmunk herself. Instead, she added receptors to the model for the other oncogenic proteins and, after changing the simulation programs to incorporate the proteins, ran electronic simulations on beagles and monkeys.
After wracking her brain to remember her e-mail password for Rachel's server, Dana perused the overflowing mailbox.
Grace came into the conference room with a bright smile despite the hour. "All done," she said, walking over to the dry-erase board. She picked up a marker and began to draw what looked like a column graph. "What do you think?" she asked, turning to her lover.
"I think that marker smells like phoof, and you need art lessons."
"Ninety-freaking-nine percent, Dana, and no other organs were detrimentally affected. God, I'm so excited." She flopped down on the chair next to the art critic.
"So we can locate the tumors. Now what do we do with the cancer cells?"
Grace leaned her head on the back of the chair and relaxed. "Don't burst my bubble yet, Babe. We'll approach the team on Monday about that."
"It is Monday."
"Then Tuesday. Stop being so uptight."
"We need to talk about this, Grace. I'm due back in Maine."
The doctor could hear the air hissing out of her bubble. This was the moment she had dreaded. "Don't tell me you can't stay."
"I have other responsibilities."
"What, a fishing boat?"
"I don't like your tone."
"You have a screwed-up sense of priorities."
"Wait a second. I'm thinking about a promise I made to Booger. I can't leave him hanging."
"You're talking about one person. I'm talking about hundreds of millions, present and future. And, Dana, there is no way I'm going to let you waltz down here, fuck my brains out, and sashay away again. And don't suggest a weekend thing. Long-distance relationships don't work for me. I need to be able to jump your bones at least twice a week."
"What if you came with me?"
"I can't do that."
"You could open an office in town."
"If I wanted to put my shingle up, I would be back in Cox's Creek, taking over my daddy's practice."
Dana studied the pencil that had found its way into her hands and frowned.
"You owe us all, Dana."
"Because I'm the Beta killer?"
"No. You owe us your gift."
"What if I fuck up again? This nano has colossal powers."
Grace took the pencil away and held the strong, nervous hands. "That's why you have me."
"Can I have the summers off to fish?"
Grace's green eyes twinkled and her face scrunched up in a way that always made Dana's stomach flutter. "We can negotiate something."
"I would expect some other perks."
"A new laptop."
"Access to your body on demand."
Dana smiled her crooked half-smile. "You're sure you don't want to think that one over, Grace? It will be more than twice a week, I guarantee it."
I'll have to build up my stamina."
"How about a signing bonus?" Dana suggested with a wiggle of her dark eyebrows.
"Let's go home and feed the dog," the doctor answered and extended her hand.
She took it. "Interesting euphemism."
"I think you spent too much time on that boat with those horny teenagers."
Dana allowed herself to be led down the hallway to the elevators. "We should talk about living arrangements."
"I think we did right fine before you moved out."
"Of course you do, Pig Pen."
The elevator doors opened. "Yeah, it was like you were my doting wife, staying home, cleaning, baking me a chicken pot pie, keeping me warm at night. I didn't realize how good I had it."
They stepped into the elevator and the doors closed.
"Sounds like I was more like your slave."
"How about sex slave?"
"That has a nice ring to it."
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