D.N. izzay

DNA! Is the coolest! And I’m gonna draw it! Well, I’m gonna piece it together, in a 3D modeling fashion. I’m inspired by people like Drew Berry and David Bolinsky. They are innovators in the field of visualizing biochemistry. Which is hard to do, I’ve found. It’s one thing to takes notes in my biochemistry class and memorize stick figures that represent the elements of our body, and maybe even try to day-dream about molecular interactions, but it’s another to put it down on paper (or a screen)–to so certainly “record” something we can’t see with our eyes.

So I turned in a very rough first draft today of the scene I’m trying to create. Picture this: you’re a DNA molecule. You’re all wrapped up and cozy in a chromosome, drifting along in the nucleus. You find yourself unraveling, which is a normal occurrence during the beginning stages of replication- you have to unravel to let the enzymes work their magic and create an exact copy of you. But something’s wrong! The part of you that codes for growth and replication of the cell you’re in is being forced to unwind by these little annoying guys called “methyl groups.” The methyl groups are binding to you (and to the histones, around which you’re wrapped) and causing you to unwind to allow for unlimited replication! Being in an unwound, or relaxed state, you’re exposed to all the transcription enzymes that transcribe away- the first step in the creation of proteins and cell growth.

Next thing you know, you wake up and you’re in a tumor. Why? What happened? Well, those little methyl groups (and a few other elements that affect the structure of you and your fellow DNA molecules) have caused chaos.

Don’t get me wrong- methyl groups aren’t evil. In fact, they’re job is to regulate the structure of DNA by binding to it, and in doing so they are essential to life. But usually, cells in which the methyl groups get mixed up like this are killed immediately. This time, however, in this one specific cell, the genes that code for these regulators have been blocked by some of the same mechanisms that caused the unlimited transcription of YOU (because you’re still the DNA molecule.) It’s like a double whammy! It’s like a house party with no supervision. Things have gotten out of hand.

So this is new research. Whereas before we blamed the sequence of the gene itself on tumors, now we blame the structure- the winding and unwinding. So I’d like to try to depict an aspect of this mechanism in a 3D model. I started creating the DNA molecule and the histones in the background. You can’t really tell what’s going on yet, but you can get a sense of the scene…

That’s all for now!

“Think Globally, Act Locally”


A busy past few weeks it’s been– went kayaking, played intramural basketball, studying for exams, while supervising JST Staff and DJ for Krome Radio.

Kayaking vintage photo before departing for the 6-mile trip

Kayaked down Chicago River. Enjoying the evening view before watching the Navy Pier Fireworks

Another exciting seminar I went too, Dr. Brundtland travels to UIC to raise awareness for global climate change and how to move towards a brighter, secure, and more sustainable future.

Former Director General of the World Health Organization, Prime Minister of Norway, and now serves the United Nations for the Special Envoy for Climate Change, Dr. Brundtland

She emphasized taking a more proactive role locally in helping global sustainability, putting forward research and funding and opening roadways to allow policies that will help achieve a greener future.

Top 3: Tips to Survive Exam Week

3. Make your schedule revolve around studying
Always put your schoolwork first. Work, hanging out, fun activities, etc. can always wait. Grades first!
2.  Survival of the Fittest
It’s important eat and rest well. In addition, get as much help as you can get to give you an edge on the exam– Office Hours, Study Groups, etc.
1. Sleep!
     Pulling “all-nighters” are very dangerous. What’s the point of studying late, if you can’t think straight. A rhyme I learned during ROTC.

Thank you for reading and I’ll catch you next week!


QUESTION OF THE WEEK: If you had one movie to bring to a deserted island, what would it be?

ANSWER FROM LAST WEEK: I would play Call of Duty with my idol.

TOPIC NEXT WEEK: Top 3 Chicago Events to Look Forward to This Fall!








Excited for Some Quality Dr. Who

My brother is coming home for the weekend, which means I can catch up on Dr. Who and continue working on our iiclothing stuff! Even though each day this past week felt so long, the week actually went by crazy fast and it makes me wonder how I’ll feel by the time I’m done with school and having my own family (well, if I ever do haha)!

My mom went to Taiwan Wednesday to go see her family. I never really thought about what it would be like to have your family in a whole different country (immediate family) and you with your spouses family like your whole life. In the Asian studies class, it was pretty common and I’m sure it’s still common today where the woman basically is brought into the man’s household and the woman’s family loses her as an asset. It must be really sad for her because the only family she has here through blood is my brother and I. Well, I hope she has a good time there and makes them feel more at ease.

Hmm…there’s nothing going on besides the fact that I have exams coming up again (ahhh!). I’m worried, but not that worried. Weird. I met my WISE mentee Tuesday and we have a lot in common! I can’t wait to see her next week so we can talk more. It’s fun being a mentor, although sometimes it can be a little tough if you’re only a year older than if you were two years older. With age comes experience I guess.

Sorry for the brief post! My brain is all over the place because there’s just so much to do and think about. I would complain, but there are so many more things that could be worse. Taking a step back always makes me appreciate things more than before. Ack. October already? My goodness.

Teenage Patients, Personal Hurdles: A Week on Adolescent Medicine

It wasn’t THAT long ago that I was a teenager… at least it doesn’t feel like it… or at least it didn’t used to.  But this week, counseling teens on the adolescent medicine service, I feel like I’m really starting to show my age.

The idea behind adolescent medicine, which as a field is very young, is to address the issues, both medical and psychosocial, that can affect a young adult’s health, all the while trying to establish a positive patient-doctor relationship such that they don’t fear coming to the doctor in the future.  It’s a novel concept, and is admirable for a number of reasons, top among them being the incredible amount of time and personalized attention each teen gets.  The average interview lasts anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour and focuses on elements of the patient’s life that are seldom addressed in other fields of medicine.  And this is with good reason, as honest discussions early on about a number of health topics such as contraception, substance abuse, eating habits, depression, etc. can have a significant impact later on.

The difficulty, however – especially for a medical student— is being the one to start these discussions, only to then walk a fine line between compassionate professional and concerned peer.  Admittedly, there are points when the conversation completely consumes me, momentarily taking me back to the mindset I had when I was their age.  But then I snap out of it, and find myself wanting to give advice, all the while constantly fearing that I will sound like I’m lecturing them.  At the risk of oversimplifying the matter, being the one wearing the white coat is intense.

After all, many of us did things in our youth that would/may have been advised against by a medical professional or other authority figure at the time, and it’s hard to embrace the hypocrisy and assume that authoritative role.  Sometimes you want to yell at them; sometimes you want to laugh and dismiss an issue that doesn’t seem all that significant, because you’ve been through something similar, and well, you turned out alright, didn’t you?; and sometimes you just want to hug them and share parts of yourself as freely as they are doing with you.

But at the same time there is that distance and professional decorum that you have to maintain.  You have to remain calm, because a lecture is seldom as effective as a discussion; you have to take every issue seriously, because different context means that what was insignificant for you may be life-altering for them; and although compassion is good and necessary, it ultimately can’t be so excessive that it impairs your objectivity in treating them.

Anyone who made it through the rigors of high school and lived to tell about it knows that the extremes of adolescence are just that: extreme.  And as if it weren’t exhausting to go through the first time, it’s just as tiring to experience through these young patients.  To make sense of why they’re behaving a certain way or understand exactly what they’re thinking I have to suspend the logical reasoning, introspection, and foresight that I’ve garnered over the past several years of adulthood and put myself in their hormonally-charged, peer-influenced, teenage shoes for a hot minute.  Unfortunately, this takes a lot more effort than I ever would have guessed, and has led me to the disconnect that I mentioned at the beginning of the post.   I may be the closest one to their age in the office, I’ve never been more keenly aware of the fact that I’m no longer a teenager.  I guess the title of student doctor is finally starting to shift more towards the “doctor” part… I mean, it was bound to happen at some point, right?

Neck Time!

I went to a surgery today that I’ve wanted to see for a while now.  It’s called a “carotid endarterectomy,” and it involves a surgeon removing plaque from a person’s gigantic carotid artery (the one you can feel pulsing in your neck.) I’ve wanted to see it because it’s what I call a pretty “primitive” surgery; even though some pretty fancy tools are used, the surgery is made up of 5 basic steps: incision, finding the artery, opening the artery, removing plaque, and sewing the person back up. While the steps are basic, it probably couldn’t have been done 100 years ago because clamping a person’s major artery so that blood doesn’t run through it (so you can remove the plaque) is a very complicated thing and requires the right balance of anesthetic, surgical speed and precision.

The surgeon was the first female surgeon I’ve seen in the OR. She was amazing. Actually she seemed unnecessarily mean at first (snippy to the resident) but really she was just very precise and demanding in the preparations for the surgery. And she liked me- a lot of surgeons don’t acknowledge the medical illustrators, but this doctor asked me my name and made sure I had a prime spot, directly behind her and towering over her on a stool. It was awesome! At one point I said to myself, I better not topple forward in excitement, because something seriously bad could happen. So when she stepped in my view, I waited patiently instead of trying to lean in.

Here are my drawings, in chronological order. I waited two hours in the room before they started, so I got some time to draw the x-rays of the patient’s arterial system in the neck.

X-ray, side view of the carotid a. and its branches. You can see where the artery narrow due to plaque build up.

X-ray, front view of the left carotid artery and its branches.

The patient, anesthetized, with markings on the neck for incision.

Initial incision.

The first view of the carotid artery and its bifurcation (where it becomes the internal and external carotid arteries. The internal goes straight to the brain. It's pretty important.

Pulling back the artery with rubber band retractors.

Removal of plaque. (this is where she started working fast.)

Drew tools while I couldn't see anything.

Suturing the artery.

The plaque sample sitting in a jar. GOT IT!

Think Before You Speak: Lessons for a Motor-mouth on the Pediatric Cancer Ward

I’m a fast talker, the majority of the time unabashedly so.  In any given conversation my mouth is going a mile a minute, with tangents, emphatic inflection changes, and wild gesticulations all part of the equation.  So you can imagine my discomfort upon entering the realm of pediatric oncology earlier this week, where everything you say holds a gravity so great even Sir Isaac Newton would be impressed.

The fact of the matter is that this field deals with very ill children whose illnesses may be life-threatening, but are always life-changing.  And one of the challenges – beyond the medical behemoth of fighting the cancer itself – is communicating the specifics of the situation with the parents, such that they have an honest, realistic assessment of what is going on with their child.  In other words, this is not the time for word vomit.

One of my patients was a tow-headed toddler undergoing her second round of multi-agent chemotherapy (6 toxic medications in total) for a non-resectable, incredibly rare sarcoma.  With only a handful of cases reported in the literature, and virtually no data with regards to treatment protocols, the attending physician sought out opinions from national experts in the field, only to find that the prognosis was most likely around a 1 in 6 chance of survival.

Little did she know that the mother of the child had contacted the same experts herself and had received the same troubling news, setting the stage for a potentially messy situation.  Luckily, this attending has an incredible way with words, and a knack for articulation that ensures that the words leaving her lips are exactly what she means to say in that moment, no more, no less.  And so she reported what she knew to the mother, succinctly yet compassionately, and in the process gained her trust.  Above all else, she seemed to be relieved that she wasn’t being placated with sugar-coated prognoses; the fact that the mother knew beforehand, and received the same news from both doctors meant that she was fully integrated into the decision-making process regarding her daughter’s care.

And so, content in that level of trust, she went on to ask a more subjective question: was the attending optimistic that her daughter would be the 1 out of 6 that beats the odds?

Of course, placed in this position, anyone would want to say yes and be able to reassure the parent that things would be okay.  Yet, in cases like this, where things actually may very well not turn out well, you can’t act on that impulse.  So in that moment the doctor did something so simple, yet so profoundly important: she paused.  It was clear that she was in deep thought during those several seconds, finding exactly the right words, fully aware of the subtle importance of syntax and semantics, because when she spoke, what came out of her mouth was the absolute perfect response for the situation.

“By my nature, I am an optimist, and I truly believe that we have found the absolute best treatment that we know of, given the specifics of your daughter’s case.  I also want you to know that she is in incredibly good hands at this institution, and that we will do everything within our abilities to aid in her treatment.  But with regards to the statistics, I cannot say one way or the other how I think it will turn out; as you know, this is a rare cancer with unpredictable course, but we will continue to do our best on her behalf and yours.”

The incredible level of respect, compassion, and empathy implicit in that response is all anyone could ask for in such a trying situation.  What the attending did was provide much needed healing during a time of suffering and uncertainty, and offered a healing of the spirit when healing of the body was uncertain.  And all because she paused and thought before she spoke.

Bye September– Hello October!!

Hey Flames!!

Activities are rocking the Quad on East Campus. Just like the one below of UIC Concert Band.

Director David Morrison and the UIC Concert Band

An exciting event in Campus Housing titled Waka Wake Guac N’ Talk where UIC Honors College where invited to interact with residents in James Stukel Towers’s Tower Lounge B.

Dean of Honors College Bette Bottoms, Faculty in Residence Brandon Valeriano, and JST Residents

So here is my article based on bathrooms I’ve been to on campus.

Top 3: Awesome Bathrooms in UIC No One Knows About 

3. UIC Student Organization’s Bathroom (SCE 3rd Floor)
It’s just an overall nice bathroom.

2. Basement Bathroom for Courtyard’s Atrium
This bathroom is best know for it’s privacy. Not many students know of it’s existence and it’s conveniently placed next to the Residence Hall Association office.

1. JST Resident Assistant/Peer Mentor Bathrooms
The bathroom is so big you can literally fit a bunk bed. Some showers include a seat and a shower head with huge cabinets.

This week’s question of the week comes from Krome Radio. Tune in to me and DJ Rome 8-10pm www.uicradio.org!
QUESTION OF THE WEEK: What video game will you play with your favorite idol?

ANSWER FROM LAST WEEK: Approximately 27,000 attend UIC of which 3,800 live on campus.

TOPIC NEXT WEEK: Top 3: Tips to Survive Exam Week

Not Sure What to Title This Week

Each week at UIC is jam-packed with so many events it’s hard to catalog them all here, although a glimpse of my phone calendar might scare people. For brevity’s sake, I’d rate my performance in school with a B+/A- so far (although after that organic chemistry test, it might shoot down a bit). Bleh that test was so intimidating. I think if we had more time in class I could have worked out at least one solid answer for each problem, I mean come on, we had to draw a fischer projection of glucose! Yeesh.

My other classes have been okay. I did one point lower than the average score in cell biology, which was disappointing so I am going to study a lot harder on the new material for the second exam. For some reason I tend to do better on the harder biology tests (for most biology classes here, the first test is always the easiest to popular belief). I think I tend to do dramatically better because I freak out about failing the class with a B so I study extra hard. For sure I’m going to pick up my game with organic chemistry because my quiz tests are outrageously nasty.

Tuesday was SFP Induction for the new members, mainly freshmen. I had to dress up that day and it felt so weird wearing a skirt. I guess I enjoyed some of the attention, but I would much prefer sticking to my t-shirt and jeans look! Haha, I should really get with my feminine side…anyway, the induction went really well and a lot of people signed up for HAC (Health Activism Committee) which I lead for the spring semester. Since we have so many people interested, though, I think I might just start this fall semester too! I’m so excited that so many people want to work with me and go to high schools to inform students about health topics like drugs/alcohol and nutrition. It’s going to be so much fun, hehe. Although, I really got to get the logistical things down ASAP. I also have to edit the banner for SFP because we changed our theme (which I came up with mwahahhaha) and just a load of other things for HAC.

I went to the dermatologist for a check-up and looks like the best option for me to decrease my eczema flare-ups and allergies would be getting allergy shots. I’ve heard of the concept before and I’m really excited because the medical student who was in rotation (there’s always three people who examine me: resident dermatologist, medical student observer, and the actual dermatologist) said he got it and his condition improved so much. Apparently allergy shots are the closest thing to a cure for allergies. I just hope it’s not too expensive…luckily CampusCare makes things really cheap. Normally my co-pay for the dermatologist in the suburbs would be $30-$50 dollars but at UIC it’s only $10. Best insurance ever.

So behind MRH is basically a huge outdoor gym where you can play tennis or baseball etc. I decided I needed to get my butt off the couch from studying and exercise! I eat right and all but it’s still not considered healthy if I’m not active. I guess walking from class to class does something, but not as much as running each day. I usually don’t exercise much because my eczema gets really bad, even though in high school I was always in a sport (I miss basketball the most and regret not doing it sophomore-senior year). But maybe if I take it slow and build-up a routine to exercise, I’ll start to like it and maybe the endorphins will help block out the pain or itchiness from eczema. I’m going to run once a week Thursday evenings with my roommate and hopefully start to increase the amount of days overtime (erm, that plan might fail if it starts snowing actually).

I’m going home for the weekend and I’ll probably just study like a monster. I have so many things to coordinate and plan. Can you believe October is coming up? That means I will be turning 19 soon. Eek.

Biking in Chicago- an Experience Unveiled

I’ve been biking every day I get the chance to class and work, navigating my old-school, silver trek road bike through the streets of Chicago and trying out all the difference routes to both East and West campus. And in doing so, I’ve experienced and seen some strange, crazy and pretty normal things, but things that are very unique to Chicago. I’ve noticed that biking through Chicago takes all 5 of your senses on a roller coaster ride. Here is some of the true grit of riding a bike through Chicago:

The choice between potholes, an opening car door, and a moving vehicle.

Chicago has a vast amount of potholes. And they all seem to congregate directly in the middle of the bike lane. One time I saw a pothole so deep that I couldn’t see the bottom of it! What was down there- a small animal? A shark swimming around in murky waters? It was scary!

The passing smell of chocolate.

There is either one huge chocolate-making factory in Chicago, whose chocolate exhaust wisps around the city with the wind, or there are a lot of small ones scattered throughout the city. I’ve smelled it downtown, I’ve smelled it on the west side, and I’ve smelled it up north. It comes and it goes, and I have no idea where the chocolate is. WHERE IS THE CHOCOLATE? Some day when I have nothing better to do, I’m going to follow my nose and get to the source. Mmmmmm….

The passing smell of trash.

My favorite route to school is directly down Wood St. to campus. There are minimal cars, even during rush hour, due to the fact that Wood runs straight through a warehouse district. The only down side is multiple trash facilities that are hidden in the depths of the district- and I’ve found them. I’ve come to associate the loud beeping of a truck in reverse with the smell of garbage. I try to avoid these trucks but sometimes they find me.

The mixed smell of hot dogs, donuts, chocolate and trash.

Ok I know I’ve expounded up the passing smells of Chicago, but the real experience is the mix of all of them together! I can’t tell if I’m hungry or need a gas mask…

The angry driver.

Classic Chicago drivers: they’re mad all the time. You stop in front of them at a stop sign. They’re mad. You drive 3 miles over the speed limit- they’re mad. You’re turning left in front of them and you take too long to do it- they’re mad. You’re riding a bike- they’re MAD! Well, I have experienced anything too terrible, but it’s the usual accelerate-way-to-fast-around-the-biker scenario. Don’t worry- they usually give you a lot of space–even take up the opposite lane–but they just want you to know that they’re NOT HAPPY about having to pass you.

The occasional overly nice driver.

They’re usually driving a Subaru, and there’s a dog sitting in front, panting out the window. They refuse to go, even when they obviously arrived at the stop sign before you. It’s really nice, but really confusing, given the fact that I’m used to the angry driver, as described above.

The skyline.

Chicago is extremely flat. I can think of one slight hill, in the middle of town on Halsted, which surprises me every time. Given the flatness of the terrain, you can see everything from anywhere. I mean EVERYTHING. I can see a tall man’s bald head from two miles away. When I’m biking to school I look over to my left and there’s the Chicago skyline! The one I’ve seen on postcards and photographs all my life. It’s a beauty, and after a year of being here I’m not used to it yet. And the best part is early in the morning, when the sun’s just coming up, (this doesn’t happen a lot, but there’s the occasional surgery that starts at 6:30am), it rises behind the buildings, and it’s orange. It’s totally orange and pink. The city’s on fire!

The fellow biker.

No matter how fast you think you’re going on the road, there’s always some guy in tight jeans, hipster glasses and a one shoulder satchel (that will give him scoliosis when he grows up, if he grows up) who zooms by at, I swear, 30 + miles per hour. Maybe it’s the fact that he doesn’t eat much and can therefore propel himself forward at almost the speed of light. Or maybe it’s the fact that he’s already 20 minutes late to his meeting at the bike shop where he works, but that guy, THAT GUY, will always pass you, and not even look your way.

Then there’s the maniac signaler. Who is not only signaling, but screaming “RIGHT RIGHT RIGHT RIGHT!” Who is she talking to? Not the drivers, because their windows are shut and they’re listening to the radio anyway. Maybe they’re talking to the dog or the squirrel that’s about to run in front of them. Or the pedestrian, so they don’t run ‘em over? I mean, I’m all about arm signals for bikes, but the yelling? Overkill.


So these have been my experiences as a Chicago cycling commuter. Every day there’s a new surprise- like the dog-pulling-owner-on-bike scenario, or the human-on-bike-pulling-dog scenario (which I saw today). Or the skateboarder who thinks he’s a biker, and takes up the bike lane. Or the pedestrian who simply refuses to acknowledge you and crosses the road, causing a near miss. (I hope I never hit a pedestrian, that would be embarassing… ) What will I see next?

Krome Radio!!!

Happy Thursday UIC!!

You feel the breeze this morning!! It’s turning into Fall!!

Last week was our kick-off show for UIC Krome Radio! I’m honored to DJ with the legendary Rome as we lead Krome into Season 3 to listeners everywhere!!

In case you missed it– Krome Radio plays a variety of popular Asian music, such as K, C, and J-Pop. Each show has an awesome theme so get pumped for our guest and events. Krome goes live from 8-10pm every Thursday on UIC Radio so stay tuned! (www.uicradio.org)

First UIC Radio DJ meeting of the year. Hosts and DJs from all different programs.

As I promised, here’s my Top 3: Things Not To Eat During Class
(And yes, these are based on true stories) 

3. Chips and Sub Sandwich
Yes, I can hear the crunch from the chips and the crinkly wrapper sound from your delicious sub sandwich
2. Sushi
I love sushi. However, I can smell that and the soy sauce from across the lecture hall.
1. Burrito
If it’s falling apart and getting messy to the point its all over your notes, then I’m sure you’ll impress the professor.

–That’s all folks, Darren out!

TOPIC NEXT WEEK:  Top 3: Awesome UIC Bathrooms That No One Knows About 

QUESTION OF THE WEEK: How many students attend UIC this year?