Pandora's Viruses

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An immunologist who requests anonymity writes:

Nearly every faculty member I meet seems to become instantly curious about my tattoo (attached). I have had it for almost 2 years now. My wife was simply shocked when I returned home after the first sitting. Yes, it took n=3 sittings of ~6 hours each.

Personally, it represents a collection of ideas, experiences, and memories that I chose to mark myself with. I wanted to make a difference with my scientific training as a viral immunologist, so I left my “ivory tower” postdoc position to do translational research at USAMRIID. I’ve spent countless hours working with Ebola, SARS, and other nasty pathogens trying to find vaccines and therapeutics to fight them with. For me personally, it was like opening Pandora’s box. It is brutal, dangerous, and dirty work. I still work with SARS and avian influenza and have NIH/DoD grants to fund the projects. For better or worse, high containment work is my “talent”.

The theme of my tattoo is based upon Greek mythology (Epimetheus/Pandora). When I finally came to embrace the path I took in science, the myth seemed to correlate with my life. Once I took the step forward and opened that “box”, there was no turning back. All of the “plagues” became my scientific passion. The caduceus represents the one last thing to escape from the “box”. I am dedicated to finding ways to combat these pathogens. While slightly irrational, I also viewed the pain and blood as a penance for the animals that must be used to study disease pathogenesis and the efficacy of vaccines and therapeutics I develop with my collaborators. Perhaps I’m a little out there, but I’m trying to make a difference. I’ve marked part of my path in a permanent way!