Cyan James


One student’s view of the UW global health and justice confab: Watermarks | 

 Over the weekend, the University of Washington held a student-run conference on global health. This was the 9th year for the Western Regional International Health Conference and this year’s theme was on social justice and health. Here’s one UW student’s perspective as she jumped from one session to another. 


By Cyan James, special correspondent

Quick: tell me what’s watermarked on Angola’s 5-kwanza note?

Stumped? I thought so.

Turns out there’s a statue portrayed on every Angolan 5-kwanza, and it’s no Venus de Milo or David—it’s The Man Who Thinks Too Much, a bent, stylized figure who cradles his head in his hands (a little like Rodin’s ‘Thinker,’ but with more of a headache.)

In Angola, ‘thinking too much’ is an expression for depression. One of the panelists at the UW conference speaking on mental health, Dr. Paul Bolton of Johns Hopkins University, said jokingly: “Dumb people don’t get this disease.”

More seriously, Bolton pointed out that if Angola saw fit to watermark their currency with a symbol for depression, it could mean Angola takes depression seriously. Or at least knows about it.

It still surprises people to hear that depression is, in fact, one of the world’s biggest killers and causes of disability. Yet it remains neglected on the global health agenda. In 1990, health researchers — now based in Seattle — looked at the leading causes of death and disability and found mental illness was one of the most damaging diseases globally.

As I jumped from session to session at the University of Washington’s 9th Annual Western Regional International Health Conference, I found myself persuaded that mental health on a global scale remains both an important and largely invisible problem. One of the themes of the meeting was finding hidden paths to improving global health.

Like the watermark on Angola’s paper currency, mental illness is always there but often unseen.

I study mental health genetics in UW’s public health genetics PhD program. And I study a lot, so maybe I wasn’t exactly thrilled about spending a semi-rainless weekend back at school. But I went, mostly for the chance to talk about mental health and other ‘hidden’ global health subjects. 

Continue reading

Infectious hope: When getting malaria makes sense | 

Flickr, Aya Rosen

It’s World Malaria Day. There’s been great progress against malaria over the past decade but most experts agree the best hope is to find an effective vaccine. Seattle Biomed is one of the world leaders in malaria vaccine research, but testing these experimental vaccines relies on people volunteering to get the vaccine — and get bitten. What it’s like to get infected for science.


By Cyan James, special correspondent

Cyan James

Lane Rasberry wants to better arm the world against malaria

“I’m going to get infected and I’m going to love it,” Lane Rasberry says with a smile.

Rasberry is about to spend at least five minutes with more than a dozen mosquitoes full of malaria parasites.

The mosquitoes huddle in a screened, pint-sized container, waiting for Rasberry to roll up his left sleeve, lay his forearm over the container, and drape a towel over his arm to simulate night. Then they launch, feeding on Lane until their breakfast clock runs out.

A Wikipedia editor by day, Rasberry also volunteers in a malaria vaccine trial at Seattle BioMed, where he belongs among a unique group of clinical subjects who intentionally get infected.

Why? For Rasberry, it’s because the research is both altruistic and convenient, and because it plays to his interest in science. “I actually enjoy participating,” he says, emphasizing research trials’ ability to create community and help others learn about scientific advances. Plus, since he grew up in Texas, the mosquitoes don’t really faze him.

Seattle Biomed, Earl Harper

Mosquito dissection

After Rasberry’s five minutes are up, a technician dumps his mosquitoes into an ethanol bath to kill them, then flicks off the mosquitoes’ heads, presses their torsos to extrude their innards, and swiftly isolates their salivary glands.

Cyan James

Skeeter dissection

The technician scans the tiny sickle-shaped glands under a microscope, searching for P. falciparum, the parasite that infects up to 500 million people with malaria every year and kills nearly two people every hour.

Continue reading