One for the Pain: Seeking Alternative Strategies for the Pharmacological Treatment of Chronic Pain
Chronic pain represents a largely unmet medical need. Traditional, multifaceted drug treatments for managing such pain are not very effective, produce highly variable results and often have unacceptable side effects. However, research over the last decade shows that a chemical called peroxynitrite (PN) plays a critical role in the development of pain. William Neumann, assistant professor of pharmaceutical sciences in the SIUE School of Pharmacy, is targeting PN with a novel, evidence-based approach to developing new ways to manage chronic pain.
A near epidemic health problem in the U.S. is the inadequate treatment of pain. One third of all Americans suffer from some form of chronic pain, and, of those, a third have pain that is resistant to current medical therapy. According to recent studies, the economic impact of pain is about $100 billion annually, and will continue to rise as an aging population suffers from diabetes, stroke, and cancer. “Compounding the problem, Is that many otherwise effective drug therapies prescribed in doses high enough to treat disease also cause pain as a side effect, so many people discontinue these therapies,” said Neumann, “This means doctors and patients must make tough choices when considering the costs and benefits of effective treatment over increased risk and reduced quality-of-life.”
Drugs used to treat a host of health conditions have many side-effects that complicate treatment. For example, patients using the most effective narcotic painkillers, like morphine, often develop tolerance and increased sensitivity to pain. This requires higher doses to achieve equivalent relief over time. While pain may subside, patients’ quality-of-life suffers due to debilitating side-effects like over-sedation, less physical activity, respiratory problems, constipation, and potential addiction. Another class of anti-inflammatory drugs called COX-2 inhibitors can be effective in treating chronic pain and some cancers, but their side-effects entail increased risks of heart attack and stroke.
Considering the significance of this problem, researchers have spent the last decade determining what chemical factors contribute to chronic pain. They have established that a chemical called peroxynitrite (PN) plays a key role in pain caused by several different types of conditions. That PN plays a role in human disease has also been supported by encouraging results in clinical trials with recombinant bovine Cu/Zn SOD (Orgotein®). Interestingly, the first clinical pilot studies with the native enzyme were done as early as the 1970’s in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and osteoarthritis (OA), with preliminary results demonstrating Orgotein® led to a 60% decrease in the consumption of painkillers. Furthermore, Orgotein® was effective in patients who had failed to respond to standard therapy, reduced pain in patients with ulcer pain, provided pain relief in patients with chronic pancreatitis, and relieved pain in patients that underwent post-irradiation of breast cancer. These findings, although preliminary, are very exciting because they provide some evidence that in humans, regulation of PN can relieve pain.
Neumann’s research thus focuses on the strong pharmacological basis for preventing the formation of PN as a new, non-narcotic way to manage pain. He and his co-investigator, Dr. Daniella Salvemini of the St. Louis University School of Medicine, are exploring how the scavenging of PN by small molecule drugs can offer an unconventional approach to painkilling. They use synthetic agents that act as catalysts to continuously destroy toxic targets like PN. This strategy differs from typical pharmaceutical agents that act only once on their targets and are fully cleared from the body.
According to Neumann, the most promising classes of agents in development are metal complexes that mimic naturally occurring enzymes. Two of these also have promise as agents that can be developed for clinical use. Thus, Neumann’s research focuses on designing agents with PN-decomposing features and drug-like properties. They will explore how the same agent can be both effective for treating pain and safe to treat disease. Through this medicinal chemistry approach, these powerful synthetic enzymes have entered the realm of potential pharmaceutical candidates.
Importantly, the PN decomposition catalysts currently analyzed by Neumann’s research group can also synergize with existing drugs such as COX-2 inhibitors and narcotics. This is a promising discovery because it means the possibility of increasing the efficacy of drugs at much lower doses, thereby reducing their negative side-effects.
Last fall, Neumann’s research team was awarded a Challenge Grant from the National Institutes of Health through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to support this research. Neumann is conducting these studies with his collaborator, Daniela Salvemini, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Pharmacological and Physiological Science at St. Louis University’s School of Medicine.
Discovering the South Unbound Through the Work of Elizabeth Spencer
The cover of SIUE Associate Professor of English Catherine Seltzer’s book, Elizabeth Spencer’s Complicated Cartographies: Reimagining Home, the South, and Southern Literary Production, features a manipulated image of an old school map of the South, its boundaries blurred at points and abruptly truncated at others, its sense of perspective slightly warped. The image is reflective of the book’s thesis: Elizabeth Spencer, a Mississippi writer who traveled widely and lived abroad for much of her adult life, was able to re-imagine the South through a series of often competing lenses in her fiction. But the map serves as a broader reflection of Prof. Seltzer’s research interests and experiences as well.
“This project is engaged in so many different kinds of journeys,” explains Seltzer. “The most obvious of which are Spencer’s really amazing geographical, spiritual and literary ‘excursions.’ She was a young sheltered woman from small-town Mississippi who knew she wanted to be a writer, and through sheer will and talent she was soon studying under—and writing with the approval of—the Fugitive-Agrarians, arguably the most important men of southern letters at the time.”
Seltzer explains that, as one might expect, Spencer’s earliest work is often imitative: “Spencer herself acknowledges that her first few novels bear ‘a claw mark or two’ left by the ‘lion’ of Southern literature, William Faulkner. But her own voice quickly emerged: her widely heralded 1956 novel The Voice at the Back Door was a critical depiction of race in the South. While it earned Spencer a much wider audience, its relatively liberal stance outraged Donald Davidson, her conservative mentor, and her father, who, in essence, kicked her out of the house.”
“It really must have been a terrifying time for her: she was completely untethered from everything that had provided her with a clear sense of identity as a good southern daughter and a writer. Yet it’s at this point when she began writing her most compelling fiction, beginning with her 1960 novella The Light in the Piazza, which has enjoyed amazing success.” To date, Spencer has published nine novels and multiple short story collections, including the Modern Library’s 2001 fairly comprehensive collection of her short fiction, The Southern Woman, a title that belies Spencer’s regular use of European and Canadian settings.
“I had long been an admirer of her work, especially her short stories,” explains Seltzer. “But as I worked on this project, I developed an enormous appreciation for Elizabeth as a person. She is a path-blazer, not only in the kinds of thematic and formal risks she regularly took in her work, but in her life. She emerged from an age where there were few models for her, and that makes her artistic and professional accomplishments that much more remarkable.”
Seltzer’s research included regular conversations and email exchanges with Spencer, who now resides in Chapel Hill, N.C. “Perhaps the biggest honor, though, was that Elizabeth granted me access to her papers, now housed in the National Library of Canada in Ottawa. I suppose everyone who does archival works feels this way, but I found it to be such an unexpectedly intimate experience: there is something about reading those letters—actually touching them—that changes your understanding of everything,” Seltzer said.
Even though Seltzer has now moved on to new research projects, she says they are informed by her work on Spencer. “Right now, I’m engaged in a project in which I look at connections between Irish and Southern literature. It’s a project that was inspired in part by a brief residency in Dublin, but I think that Elizabeth Spencer’s work has also opened my eyes to the fact that scholars of southern literature cannot be bound by geography.”
Improving Diagnosis and Treatment of Children with Behavioral Disorders
Working with Father Flanagan’s Girls and Boys Town in Omaha, Neb., Jeremy Jewell, associate professor of psychology, explores the various causes of behavioral disorders. His surprising studies regarding the diagnosis of conduct disorder in children and adolescents in the foster system challenge existing practices. His work offers new perspectives on the role of race and ethnicity in the diagnosis and treatment of behavioral conditions.
Jeremy Jewell has been interested in the backgrounds of children with behavioral disorders from the beginning his academic career. “I’m interested in what influences some children and young adults to be diagnosed with ‘conduct disorder’ while others do not,” he said
Jewell’s dissertation showed that while children with conduct disorder and depression displayed similarities in the amount of family conflict they experienced, the nature of these conflicts varied. Specifically, young adults with depression seemed to be accompanied by a very close relationship between children and parents, while kids with conduct disorder were much more likely to be disengaged from their parents.
Yet, some of Jewell’s most engaging projects can be traced to his pre-doctoral internship at Father Flanagan’s Girls and Boys Town in Omaha, Neb. Jewell describes Girls and Boys Town as “a small, self-sufficient city where about 500 or more foster children live and go to school.”
Jewell’s first study there analyzed the accuracy of the Diagnostic Interview Schedule for Children (DISC), a widely-used computer program that tests subjects for symptoms of disorder. Jewell and colleagues found, surprisingly, that adolescents who had self-reported symptoms of conduct disorder on DISC exhibited much more conduct disordered behaviors in treatment, compared to those who arrived with a conduct disorder diagnosis from a clinician. This was a significant finding that validated the DISC and offered a critique of clinicians’ typical approach to diagnosing children with conduct disorder. In attempting to explain why psychologists were misdiagnosing, Jewell also found that clinicians were more likely to diagnose African-American adolescents with conduct disorder. “This pointed to a potential bias in how we diagnose kids with various problems,” said Jewell.
Jewell collaborated with researchers at Girls and Boys Town again, going beyond diagnosis to explore how treatment of kids in foster care is affected by their own ethnicity and that of their foster parents. They discovered that ethnicity congruence of children and their foster parents does matter, but only for African-American children. In fact, African-American kids placed with Caucasian foster families exhibited higher rates of aggression and school problems compared to their African-American “matched family” counterparts.
This study led to a current collaboration with Girls and Boys Town and Danice Brown, associate professor of psychology, in which they will consider possible connections between ethnicity and under-diagnosis of disorders like depression and anxiety. With the help of his collaborators and a lab of 7-10 undergraduate students, Jewell hopes to continue to improve current practices.
But It’s My Job: Studying Ethical Collusion in Organizational Environments
Organizational ethical behaviorists are discovering that morality is not a prerequisite for getting to the top of the food chain. George Watson, associate professor of management & marketing in SIUE’s School of Business, explores the moral nature of organizational structures and asks how institutional environments might encourage or discourage various forms of ethical collusion.
According to George Watson, associate professor of management & marketing, organizational ethical behaviorists are discovering that morality is not a prerequisite for getting to the top of the food chain. In fact, it is likely that we humans carry with us some natural inclinations that are decidedly immoral. Says Watson, “Given the pressures of competitiveness, the nature of human psychology and the dynamic complexities of human interactions we may easily, with or without specific awareness, act to severely injure other people.”
Understanding human moral nature in organizational settings and devising theories that allow us to better adapt ourselves to the needs of our society, community and organization is the central research goal of Watson and his team of researchers in the SIUE School of Business.
“The joke has been that business ethics is an oxymoron, or a course with a blank book, and so forth, but these things are changing. We have historically believed that only bad people do bad things,” Watson said. “But we know now, that once people are emerged in organizational contexts, they mold themselves to be an effective, productive and valued contributor to the organizational goals.” Unfortunately, argues Watson, neither organizational goals, nor the means of achieving them always passes the test of moral acceptability He points out that recent events at Abu Ghraib began as an effort to gain information to save U.S. troops but ended as an international disgrace when photographs of abusive behavior of prisoners surfaced.
One of the major research questions in this field addresses why reasonable and well-educated people band together in collusive behavior that is unethical or illegal. Watson’s current research seeks to illuminate the factors and dynamics of interpersonal collaborations that lead to unethical group decisions. A recent seed grant awarded through SIUE’s S.T.E.P. competition will allow him to create advance modeling of collusive behaviors. In the fall 2010 Watson will use this grant opportunity to study the roles of skills, authorities and opportunities in the formation and membership of collusive groups.
In these efforts to develop models of organizational ethics, students serve as valuable contributors at every level of Watson’s work. Joe Bosico, a recent Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity (URCA) Associate, assisted Watson in studying the effects of moral disengagement on perceptions of fair labor practices. In addition, through the Senior Project in the School of Engineering, a team of young software engineers are developing a neural network model that simulates the way the mind reduces dissonance in a morally-ambiguous decision, act or policy. This application may also be used to depict how groups of people come to either an explicit or implied consensus regarding questionable practices. Finally, projects by some of Watson’s graduate students have extended the study of organizational behavior to explore the impact of various patterns of industrial innovation on the workforce and the changing roles of women in business internationally.
“I am most excited about neural network technology and agent-based modeling approaches to better understand unethical behavior at work,” Watson said. “The truth is that no one in an organization calls me to say: ‘Hey, I’m doing bad things, come and study me.’ Secrecy, legal constraints and our own need to see ourselves as good people prevent researchers from getting to the bottom of these issues. One of our best chances in understanding and coping with human behavior resides in these emerging and advancing artificially intelligent modeling techniques.” In the future, Watson hopes to collaborate with white-collar criminologists to bring a fuller range of factors to the study of misbehavior in organizations.
A team of SIUE collaborators established the Green Roof Environmental Evaluation Network (G.R.E.E.N.) to conduct research on the benefits of green roof implementation and the performance of green roof materials and techniques. Bill Retzlaff, associate professor of biological sciences, Susan Morgan, civil engineering professor, and Serdar Celik, assistant professor of mechanical engineering test the viability of green roof technologies at a ground-level site and two roof sites on SIUE’s campus.
G.R.E.E.N.’s experiments measure temperature distributions within green roofs as well as plant performance under extreme conditions. The energy savings of building envelopes, especially those with a high roof-to-wall area ratio (such as warehouses or box stores) are studied using analytical, experimental and numerical approaches.
The behavior of plants and growth media under varying wind speeds is also being studied using the SIUE wind tunnel, one of the largest in Illinois. About 100 undergraduate and graduate students have participated in the research, and initiatives have been undertaken with SIUC, the University of Texas at Austin, and the University of Hawaii.
Grants from the National Great Rivers Research and Education Center, the National Roofing Contractors Association, the U.S. EPA, the SIUE Research Grant for Graduate Students and SIUE Undergraduate Research and Creative Academy have all enabled G.R.E.E.N. team members to conduct and publish research about the thermal effects of green roofs, storm water quantity and quality, and plant performance.
Documenting Nar-Phu: An SIUE Linguist Fights for Language Diversity in Nepal
Assistant Professor Kristine Hildebrandt, Department of English Language and Literature, has made it her professional mission to gather, organize and publish documentary material on some of the world’s most endangered languages, and to advocate countermeasures to language extinction in Nepal. Her work over the past 12 years has repeatedly taken her to Nepal to work with speakers of threatened languages like Nyeshangte, Gurung, Gyalsumdo and currently, Nar-Phu. She has published grammatical sketches, a dictionary, and other analyses of these systems.
A sobering fact: According to a recent UNESCO report, it is estimated that of the approximately 6,000 languages spoken in the world today, over 50 percent of them are threatened with extinction before the end of the 21st century. A language becomes extinct, or dies, when there are no more living native speakers to pass the system on to future generations.
These figures are particularly meaningful in Nepal, a small Southasian country roughly the size of Illinois, and located between India and China. Nepal is home to over 100 distinct languages from multiple familial lineages. Despite this diversity, UNESCO categorizes 30 percent of these languages as ‘definitely endangered,’ and 20 percent are categorized as ‘severely or critically endangered,’ many with just a few hundred speakers, and very few of them children.
Nar-Phu in particular has fewer than 500 speakers, and other than some preliminary descriptive material from the 1990’s, very little is known about the structure of this language or its patterns in daily use. Similarly to other endangered languages, Nar-Phu has no standard orthography and its role in public domains is limited outside of the villages where it has traditionally been spoken. Recent generations have seen a sharp decline in the speaker population of Nar-Phu, largely due to urban migration and increasing pressures from national (Nepali) and other regional languages.
With funding from the Hans Rausing Endangered Languages Project at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, Hildebrandt will work with Nar-Phu speakers to provide documentation and archived material on Nar-Phu. She will create a vocabulary database in comparison with other related and regional languages. The project will also provide a detailed corpus of narratives, songs and conversational exchanges to facilitate analyses of the discourse patterns in Nar-Phu. Additionally, Hildebrandt hopes to provide the community a Nar-Phu/Nepali word-book aimed at primary school use and copies of recordings for the communal archive.
At SIUE, the Nar-Phu project team includes three student assistants: Joshua Yardley, a graduate student in the Teaching English as a Second Language program, Carl Bringenberg, a Foreign Languages (German) major, and Devang Patel, a Business (Computer Management) major. Joshua and Carl will assist with data organization and translation aspects of the project, while Devang will hone his skills in information systems by creating a blog with information and audio-video clips of Nar-Phu.
“The reasons behind language endangerment are as varied as the threatened languages themselves, but never have anything to do with their sound systems, grammatical structure or family history,” Hildebrandt said. “Rather, the reasons are societal in nature.” According to her, many languages of the Americas, Africa and South- and Southeast Asia have historically faced endangerment or extinction as a result of colonialism and migration-related movements. In such cases, the arrival of an economically and/or politically-dominant culture may have a negative impact on the societal role and self-perception of indigenous languages and the people who speak them.
But other threats to language vitality come from within national borders, where one (or a handful) of languages are designated as national, official languages. Such languages have a privileged position in society as the main code of education, commerce, government and the media. Thus, Hildebrandt argues, “those who do not speak the dominant language are viewed as backwards and uneducated, and this opinion extends to the indigenous language itself. Moreover, non-fluency in the official code can be viewed as a threat to national identity or even security.”
Such is the scenario in Nepal, says Hildebrandt, where the national language is Nepali. “Despite a constitutional recognition of the right of indigenous languages of Nepal to survive, the role of Nepali (and Hindi and English), and the hub status of the capital city Kathmandu have had displacement effects for younger Nar-Phu speakers in particular.” This effect has been exacerbated during the past decade by a violent civil conflict between the government and Maoist rebels. Extreme force used by the military, combined with the (often-forced) recruitment of children as soldiers towards the Maoist cause has resulted in a large-scale exodus of younger people from rural communities—with devastating impacts on village infrastructure and local languages.
For Hildebrandt, the threat that language loss presents is metaphorically similar to the loss of plant and animal species bio-diversity. She continually works with students and colleagues to show that “when language diversity is lost, a component of our own human diversity disappears, along with those characteristics that uniquely identify different cultures and traditions. On a scientific level, linguistic research has revealed an amazing range of variation in sound, vocabulary and grammatical systems across languages. The loss of languages therefore also results in a growing gap in our own knowledge base about the possibilities of the human mind.”
In a global society, where a specific set of languages become increasingly dominant, Hildebrandt’s mission finds particular resonance. Her work recognizes the tension between the need for a small number of shared communication codes and the desire to preserve the many systems that uniquely identify our communities and us. Language documentation and preservation, according to Hildebrandt, legitimizes all communication codes, showing speakers that their language has a place alongside dominant or national languages. She particularly favors documentation projects that provide the community materials promoting their local language in domestic, business and educational environments. This “not only generates data on the threatened language, but creates contexts in which it can be viewed as useful and worth preserving for current and future generations.”
Graduate assistant, Joshua Yardley echoes this viewpoint: “As an ESL teacher, I am aware that the spread of one language may have an impact on the vitality of another. I also know that in order to be effective you need to get to know your student, which often means getting to know their language. That’s why I think making language preservation a mission of language teachers is just and natural. I look forward to continuing this kind of research after graduation using the skills I learn from this project.”
Hildebrandt and her team will contribute in this dimension by creating elementary school resources composed in the local language. It is also hoped that the Nar-Phu project will lead to an increased general awareness among SIUE students about the facts and issues concerning language diversity, endangerment and preservation. Even Devang Patel, an undergraduate assistant on the grant, notes that his involvement in this project increases his understanding of language co-existence and pressures in the Indian sub-continent, from which his family originally hails.
Seeking Safe Tooth Pain Relief
Kevin Rowland, assistant professor and section head of physiology in the Department of Applied Dental Medicine, is exploring new ways to alleviate dental pain. His work tackles the difficult problem of finding appropriate drug treatments for the types of acute, spontaneous, and chronic pain resulting from tooth decay and other orofacial conditions.
Despite the severity and frequent occurrence of dental pain in humans, drugs that effectively reduce pain without serious side effects, like addiction, are sorely lacking. As the recipient of SIUE’s 2009 Vaughnie Lindsay New Investigator award, Rowland has undertaken studies to identify the mechanisms involved in the production of chronic pain and to develop procedures to test new, non-narcotic drugs for pain treatment.
Encouraged by the development of new drugs that target the neurons that transmit pain, Rowland is testing how these drugs block the transmission of pain signals. Rowland has developed a rodent model to monitor changes in behavior and changes in neuronal cytochemistry. Funded recently through a grant from the American Association of Endodontists Foundation, the project aims to identify and quantify behaviors that can be used to evaluate toothache pain by using ultra sonic and video recordings.
Another goal is to identify the neurons aggravating injured teeth by retrograde dye labeling at the end of each experiment. Rowland believes that his model system will provide a more accurate representation of dental pain at the cellular and behavioral levels. Medha Gautam, section head of the Department of Applied Dental Medicine is contributing to the project, exploring different practical applications of the research. Indeed, Rowland argues, such a project promises to improve our understanding of the transition from acute to chronic dental pain, and possibly offer new tools for developing “non-narcotic analgesics to better treat and reduce patient pain.”
For more information about this and other research conducted by Rowland, Gautam and colleagues at the SIU School of Dental Medicine, visit http://www.siue.edu/dentalmedicine/about/research_scholarship.shtml.
SIUE Faculty Collaborates in Landmark Children’s Study
In 2008 a team of investigators from the SIUE School of Nursing, St. Louis University, Washington University, and Battelle, Public Institute Inc. received funding from the National Institutes of Health to participate in the National Children’s Study. The ground-breaking National Children’s Study (NCS) is the largest study of children ever launched in the United States. The regional team of investigators will conduct an expansive study on children in the St. Louis and Southwestern Illinois area.
It will enroll 100,000 children, recruited at preconception or early in pregnancy and followed until their 21st birthday. The study will address environmental exposures like contaminates in air, water or soil or agricultural chemicals and their effects on child health and development. The interaction of genes and environment also take a prominent role in the research. “
We know that the old nature versus nurture argument about what has the greatest effect on children was missing the point,” said Louise Flick, interim principal investigator for the study. “New knowledge indicates that environmental exposures can turn on or off expressions of genes inherited from families. Therefore, it really is the interplay of nature and nurture that most effects children’s health. The study takes a broad view of environment, including relationships with parents, community characteristics, other factors from the social environment, as well as physical and biochemical exposures.”
Researchers will examine the role of environment in the causes of child health threats like autism, schizophrenia, asthma, preterm birth and childhood obesity. Until now similar studies have been too small or have had other design limitations that interfered with their ability to shed much light on these important childhood disorders.
In the NCS, children throughout the continental U.S. and Hawaii will be recruited from 105 randomly selected locations representing both urban and rural areas as well as different race and ethnic groups. Seven locations began recruiting participants in a pilot study to test the procedures and recruitment strategies this past January and now report their first births. The regional effort in the St. Louis area will be conducted through the Gateway Center based at St. Louis University School of Public Health.
After the unexpected death in April of 2009 of study lead investigator, Terry Leet from St. Louis University, Louise Flick assumed leadership of the National Children’s Study’s Gateway Study as the Interim Principal Investigator. The Center, formed in 2007, started as a consortium of three universities (SIUE, St. Louis University and Washington University) and Battelle, Public Health Institute Inc. It now includes SIU Medical School and SIU Carbondale.
Participating schools include a nursing school (SIUE, headed by Laura Bernaix), a school of public health (SLU), three medical schools (Washington U, SLU and SIU Springfield) and a center for rural health (SIU Carbondale). The project also has affiliations with county health departments in each study location and many other community agencies serving each of the locations, and over 16 hospitals.
Planning is underway in the region to collect data for the NCS in four study locations: St. Louis City and Jefferson County, Mo., as well as Macoupin County, Ill., and three counties in Southern Illinois (Johnson, Union and Williamson Counties). Each study location will recruit 1,000 children and their families over a four-year period. The Gateway Study Center has been awarded $52 million for the first six-year period (2007-2013) to plan and initiate data collection; $5 million of which will come to SIUE. Data collection in St. Louis City, Mo., and Macoupin County, Ill., will begin in mid-2010 and in mid-2011 in the other locations.
Bees and Bodies: The Honeyed Drawings of Brigham Dimick
For the past five summers, Brigham Dimick of SIUE’s Art and Design Department has collaborated with honeybees to further his creative research. Drawing from a history of severe allergic reactions to stinging insects, Dimick has sought to develop a medium and process that could personally embody his vulnerabilities. To this end, he has recruited the help of honeybees living in the hives on his own property and developed a hybrid form of artwork that binds the vulnerability of humans with that of the animals that could harm them.
Just shortly after Dimick received a Summer Research Fellowship from SIUE for this work in 2005, news emerged of the so-called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), a mysterious phenomenon that entails sudden large losses to the honeybee population internationally. Since then, Dimick’s line of research has evolved into not only an exploration of his own weaknesses, but also a means to illustrate the plight of the bees themselves.
Dimick is particularly interested in contributing to the tradition of memento mori, an art genre that serves as a reminder of one’s mortality. His image Hive Body is based on a life-size self-portrait that appears as a botanical illustration, in which pairs of branches move through space as metaphorical veins and arteries. It is an allegorical response to his experience of anaphylactic shock after being stung by wasps while trimming bushes. The bushes themselves become the human body, and the organization of these branches point toward the effects of anaphylaxis within the vascular system.
Dangling from the vascular branches are drawn medallions with the initials of each of the women and men who died in one of the World Trade Center towers on 9/11. Of this additional element, Dimick says, “This process of making art while meditating on the suffering of others was a way for me to consider other people’s misfortune, while also rendering information gleaned through news media less abstract. I was inspired by learning about communities of quilters whose art-making becomes a process of thinking about others; a Mennonite circle of quilters gave my wife and me an infant-size quilt, in which they prayed for our child’s well-being while sewing that quilt.”
Dimick would like the interpretation of his work to be based not only on its imagery, but also on the types of materials and processes employed in the art’s manufacture. In the case of Hive Body and others in the series, for example, each section of the image was placed into a honey frame and placed inside Dimick’s backyard beehive. Over time, if Dimick is lucky, his colony of Carnolian honeybees draw up wax combs directly onto the image. Of this process Dimick says, “On one level, immersing the allegorical self-portrait into the beehive becomes ritualistic, as my image becomes an effigy. On another level, the honeybees become creative collaborators, alternatively building honeycomb on top of my imagery, and destroying the paper in other places. I welcome the impact the bees will have upon the imagery, and appreciate the unexpected syntheses between the architectural design of the human body in relation to the built environments of the honeybees themselves.”
In exploring this symbiotic relationship between artist and bee, Dimick’s research has led him to become one participant in a growing wave of new backyard beekeepers, and he likes to say that he has “enjoyed the process of learning about the behavior of bees, eating their honey, and also having thousands of pollinators in our gardens.” But perhaps by using the bees’ honey to illustrate the collective vulnerabilities of human and animal, Dimick has also found a way to immortalize that relationship, showing how an animal once so threatening to humans could be viewed as an equally vulnerable and valued partner in the production of new experiences.