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    “The Mind-Mucus Connection,” by Bruce Goldman

    Stanford University School of Medicine  
    The Robert G. Fenley Writing Awards: Basic Science Staff Writing 

    Much maligned, mucus plays an essential role in our lungs by lubricating their surfaces, trapping pathogens and dust particles, and ushering them up through and out of our airways. Yet, if there’s too much of it, or if it’s too sticky, it can make otherwise healthy people sick and make sick people sicker. Stanford School of Medicine researcher Axel Brunger and his colleagues designed a drug scientifically tuned to thread the therapeutic needle, blocking excessive mucus secretion while leaving unaffected the substance’s steady-state, low-level production. Brunger’s groundbreaking discoveries about how our nerve cells secrete just the right amounts of chemical substances in their communications with one another enabled him to envision and then bring into being the mucus-modulating drug. It was this odd parallelism between the brain’s neurotransmitter-secreting neurons and the lungs’ mucus-secreting cells that drove the story’s whimsical character
    What was the most impactful part of your entry? 

    Since its publication on July 27, 2022, in our flagship quarterly magazine, Stanford Medicine, “The Mind-Mucus Connection” received the most online page views of any article appearing in the magazine in 2022 and has been viewed about 25,000 times to date. It has also generated dozens of email inquiries, received by its writer, Bruce Goldman, from people desperate for a cure or seeking to volunteer in clinical trials of the compound. Brunger is keeping a list of these prospective volunteers for just such an eventuality and has been in talks with potential donors and pharmaceutical partners. Brunger wrote Goldman to share that the article’s appearance caught the attention of another Stanford researcher, whom Brunger had never met, spurring an ongoing collaboration between the two of them. 
    What challenge did you overcome?
    This magazine article was pitched at nonscientists, who have had no opportunity or incentive to “bone up” on obscure technical terminology. Rather than simply reporting on an important but technically daunting discovery in the language scientists use to communicate with one another, Goldman devised his own metaphors, similes, analogies, and humor to describe molecular, cellular, and physiological entities and events, and their medical significance. This effort to render otherwise arcane biology readable appears to have succeeded, judging by the ensuing influx of congratulatory emails. 
    Contact: Bruce Goldman