Not knowing where to start, I Googled a list of diseases and picked whatever sounded interesting, which left me with about 15 possibilities. I did what every almost-adult does and called my parents to help me narrow it down, but neither of them answered. Left to do this on my own, I chose a disease with my mother in mind, a disease with my father in mind, and a disease that I had personal interest in. Here is what I came up with:
- For my mom, I chose Lyme disease. Lyme disease is caused by Borrelia burgdorferi and typically transmitted by ticks. A common sign is a rash that looks kind of like a bullseye at the site of the tick bite. Lyme disease is treatable in most cases, but symptoms can persist for months and become chronic. As a family that owns outdoor cats, we are constantly on the watch for ticks on our cats and on ourselves. Last summer, my mom found the rash on her leg. She responded to treatment and is fine, but as a scientist herself, had a lot of persisting questions. We’ve been told by our vet that cats don’t typically get Lyme disease, and I think it would be interesting to investigate the mechanism of B. burgdorferi and how it allows animals like cats to avoid infection.
- For my dad, I chose cleft palate. Cleft palate is a birth defect characterized by an opening in the roof of the mouth to the nose. Cleft palate can be found in conjunction with cleft lip, which is an opening in the upper lip that may extend to the nose. Cleft palate has been linked to mutations in genes involved in palate and lip formation, however some environmental factors have also been proposed to interact with genes to cause the defect. My father was born with both a cleft lip and cleft palate and there was concern that either my sister or I would inherit it. I think it would be interesting to look into some of the genetic causes and how they contribute to the lack of development of the lip and mouth.
- For me, I chose herpes. Over the summer, I learned that up to 90% of the population may have herpes. Herpes can come in two flavors, HSV-1, the common cause of oral infection, or HSV-2, the common cause of genital infection. Most people infected are asymptomatic and a lot of the symptoms are not serious or fatal in any way. Herpes is highly stigmatized, so I was shocked to learn that not only does it often have very minor symptoms, but also that so many people may have it. I think it would be interesting to investigate herpes on a biochemical level and suss out what is real and what is just hype.
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