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Dry Bones Revisited
Witnessing Tools
Tuesday, April 16, 2013
Wendy Wippel

Dr. Ronald Glaser was an up and coming researcher thirty years ago (when I worked under him at the Ohio State University).  Dr. Janice Kiecolt was too.  They met; they married…a match made in Buckeye heaven.  But also a match that ultimately confirmed a heavenly inspiration from Proverbs.

The two scientists, as they found their hearts and lives intertwining, wanted to integrate their work lives as well.  They wanted to find a way to collaborate professionally.

But, Columbus (Ohio), we had a problem.  Glaser was an immunologist, at the time working specifically on viral immunology. (As, later, would I), Kiecolt was a clinical psychologist.  Dead end.

Not so fast.  Other researchers, particularly David Felten at nearby Indiana University, managed to actually visualize, through some high-tech microscopic techniques, immune system cells.  What he saw, incredibly enough, was nerve cells actually interacting with immune cells.  In 1981, Felt, with a couple other scientists doing similar research, released a book entitled Psychoneuroimmunology.

That book, in turn birthed a completely new branch of medical science.

Psychoneuroimmunology: a science specifically focused on how the nervous system and the immune system might influence each other.

That new science, psychoneuroimmunology, just happened to be the exact convergence or the lovebird's separate disciplines Psychology and immunology.  It seemed, no doubt, that their prayers had been answered.  However, the field was still in its infancy.  Not much was really known about how those two systems interacted.

It was known at that point that intense physical stress like prolonged sleep deprivation, weakened the immune system.  So the Glasers decided to find out whether everyday kinds of stress, like those associated with work or school, also affected the immune system.

The next step?  Come up with a specific research plan.  And that’s more difficult than you might think.

How could they simulate everyday stress in a laboratory setting?  How much stress would be enough?  Would that much scare away possible test subjects?  How could they make sure the subjects complied with the planned laboratory tests?

To test stress, they had to figure out a way to recreate job stress.  The stress had to be enough to potentially cause immune effects, but not so much that it would scare away subjects. In addition, they had to figure out a way to make sure that the test subjects complied with the necessary blood tests.

Eventually, they had a great idea.  Their idea produced a research project whose results were reported worldwide.  A project that formed a foundation for thirty more years of research in how stress influences your body.

The idea?  (I would have liked to have been there for their "Eureka!" moment.)

Use medical students.  Medical students after vacation (i.e., nonstressed) and medical students after their exams. (i.e. uberstressed).

It was perfect.  What is more stressful than medical school exams?  However, it was normal stress (The students had to take their exams anyway), and they were an otherwise captive audience.

So, a relatively simple experiment by modern standards, it was quickly done.  The Glasers drew the medical student's blood (fresh off of spring break), and looked at the levels of a bunch of immune system cells and chemicals.  They repeated the whole thing a couple months later, drawing blood from each student as they left their set of final exams.

The results, when published, were the immunology "shot heard round the world".

In short, the immune systems of the medical students' immune systems, after the stress of their final exams, were dramatically impaired.   Post exam, the MD wannabes had significantly lower numbers of helper T cells, suppressor T cells, and cytotoxic T cells.)

T-cells (simplistically) are responsible for fighting off viruses and tumors, B cells (simplistically) are responsible for fighting off bacterial infections, and natural killer cells (simplistically) are kind of the body's special forces, a group of cells that can carry out quick-reponse, covert attacks.)

Together, T-cells, B cells, and Natural Killer cells make up pretty much the biological equivalent of our Army, Navy Air Force, and Marines.  They comprise most of our immunological armed forces.

The point I’m getting to is (very leisurely, I admit) is that all these cells of the immune system are produced in the bone marrow.

Bone marrow is what fills the central cavity of your long bones.  My medical textbook tells me to think of the bone marrow as a wet sponge.  When you fill out a form asking for a sample of bone marrow, it refers to marrow as the “wet tissue” of the bone.

It's called wet tissue because the wetness serves as a stark contrast to the hard, and inherently therefore dry, bone.

Which leads us finally to,

"A merry heart does good, like medicine,[a] But a broken spirit dries the bones."  (Proverbs 17:22)

That verse speaks scientific truth.

Glaser and wife (Janice Kiecolt-Glaser) spent the next thirty years fleshing out those early findings, and what they found was that life's disappointments (and the broken spirit that those things bring) have consistent effects, similar to those first results in medical students.  Widows, caregivers for sick or dying spouses, those in bad marriages, abused children, victims of divorce, the unemployed, victims of natural disasters (and so on) consistently have similar immunological effects.

A broken spirit shuts down production of necessary components of the immune system; those immune components are produced in the "wet tissue" of the bones.

A broken heart dries up the production of all those components in the wet tissue of the bone marrow.  A broken spirit dries up the bones.

Just like God said.

Thankfully, that’s not the end of the story.  Later in the New Testament God reassures that He is close to the brokenhearted and He saves those whose spirits have been crushed.

And He ultimately heals all of our diseases.

In the meantime, we get these little snippets of science, revealed from the God who created us.  Just another whisper of His power (Job 26:14)

Wippel" href="http://www.omegaletter.com/content/?Bio_Wendy_page">About Wendy Wippel

Last week: Wippel" href="http://www.omegaletter.com/articles/articles.asp?ArticleID=7577">Grace Poured Out

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