Medical Microfiction: Angiogenesis

At dawn, Walter listened close for a lost little girl’s sobs in the woods. Months since she’d vanished into the wild, yet he still rose early each day to search for her in the acres of dense thickets that spread out from their small cabin.

Eaten by bears, they said. Likely enough. But what’s a father to do but hope until hope extinguishes?

He pulled on heavy boots and tramped into the trees again. This much he could do: step by step, he’d lay new trails in the wilderness — life-bearing arteries — so that someday she might find her way home.


Blood vessels (Photo credit: shoebappa)

Angiogenesis is a word so beautiful that this story has no other title. This lovely bodily process describes how blood vessels recolonize an area after it’s been wounded and cut off from contact.

Let’s pretend you cut your finger. If the wound is deep enough, you may have severed blood vessels and nerves in the process, which means the region may no longer have full sensation or nutrition.

Angiogenesis to the rescue!

First your body seals the wound by flooding it with blood, which washes out the foreign particles and invasive bacteria. Next, a blood clot and then a  scab forms over the area to seal out the environment. The wound begins to heal from inside out. Granulation tissue — that is, scar tissue — fills the gaps. Finally, angiogenesis occurs, reconnecting the blood vessels and nerves to reestablish communication with the finger.

Isn’t that lovely ? It speaks to me of hope: hope that what was lost can be found in the wilderness. After all, when the nerves in an area are cut off, it’s complete radio silence to your nervous system. The telegraph’s silenced. The TV’s dead. The internet’s gone out. It’s possible that the finger’s not even attached anymore.

But the body doesn’t give up. It sends out the search-and-rescue party. It lays paths in the wilderness until the little girl finds her way home.

Dandelion wind
Hope springs eternal. (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

Angiogenesis has a dark side, too. In the world of cancer, it has a pathological form which may make this word much less lovely to some ears. We’ll talk about pathological angiogenesis sometime in the future. For today, let’s dwell on the life-giving hope that branches eternally in our veins.

I recently finished John Haught’s book, God After Darwin, which explores the intersection of the topics of evolution and theology. Haught posits that in the fabric of the universe and even in nonliving matter, there’s a calling and a pull toward beauty and hope. When I learn about things like angiogenesis, I can’t help but think he’s onto something.

I hope you have a good week, friends. Blaze some trails in the wilderness today.

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