Apr 4, 2008
By: Alvaro Fernandez
Last year, Jeffrey Gonce, a Psychology teacher at Red Land High School (West Shore School District, PA) asked his students to “complete a project describing a recent brain (or genetic) study that affects behavior.” The students could opt to post their articles online, and Jeffrey was kind enough to send us a link to read the results. We enjoyed reading them all, and published in our blog this beautiful essay, titled “Tis better to give than receive”, written by Alexandra, which was subsequently included in a number of neuroscience an psychology blogs. Earlier this year we highlighted this piece on Musical training as mental exercise for cognitive performance, written by Megan.
This quarter, Jeffrey also sent us his students’ essays, and we are going to recognize and publish this great essay by high school student Kristin H.
— By Kristin H.
Alzheimer’s is a disease which causes people, generally of an older age, to lose memory and forget how to accomplish simple tasks. Dementia is the disease which Alzheimer’s is a part and about four million Americans were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 1999, a number which is expected to grow (Altman 8-9). Dementia is an unspecific brain disease commonly associated with memory loss and another serious brain dysfunction. Dementia is an incurable disease (“Dementia”). A new drug treatment that replaces the enzyme missing in an Alzheimer’s brain may be able to cure Alzheimer’s disease in it’s late stages (Coghlan).
Rebecca Rupp says memory allows people to “shape our characters, build our careers, forge our relationships, and (create the) irreplaceable histories of ourselves. Without (memory), we are hollow persons, not only empty of a past, but lacking a foundation upon which to build the future” (Altman 27). In a brain affected by Alzheimer’s disease, neurons, nerve cells, are unable to work properly (Altman 29-30). Studies have shown that Uch-L1, an enzyme which rids the brain of protein, begins to disappear as the presence of the protein amyloid beta plaque begins to increase in an Alzheimer’s brain as opposed to a normal brain. The abundance of the amyloid beta plaque partially disables a neuron’s ability to communicate with other neurons (Coghlan). Certain proteins that are found in the Alzheimer’s brain can cause cell deaths (Alexander). The combination of these dysfunctions, generally affecting the cortical and limbic regions, parts of the brain which affect emotions and memory, are what causes the memory loss and other symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s disease (Alexander).
Doctors currently only use treatments and therapies intended to stifle the symptoms as opposed to curing the disease. There are currently only two drugs, Tacrine and Donepezil, that have been approved for use in the United States by the F.D.A. Both are quick fixes for symptoms and the effects of the drugs never last long (Altman, 55). Current medications are aimed at preventing more Alzheimer’s plaques or destroying the plaques. The new treatment works differently, aiming at another part of the dysfunctional brain (Coghlan).
At Columbia University, scientists tried this new treatment on mice that they hope will one day be able to help humans who are affected by Alzheimer’s disease. Michael Shelanski, leading the research team, bred mice to have a rodent’s Alzheimer’s disease. Pieces of certain rodents’ brains were subjected to the amyloid beta protein. The other rodents had been born with a brain that would naturally produce the protein. The different kinds of brains were then treated with Uch-L1 and brain functions began to improve and return to normal (Coghlan).
A spokeswoman for the UK Alzheimer’s Society said, “Currently, there’s only one type of drug available, and this only stabilizes symptoms for a limited period but research on the new approach is still in the early stages…so further trials are urgently needed” (Coghlan). Currently, the Uch-L1 would enter the body through a shot in the abdomen. Researchers are hoping to develop a pill which would have the same effect as the injection (Coghlan). Currently and in the future, researchers will likely continue experimenting with the drug both to find the outcome when used on humans and to find a successful oral treatment. From this current research and possible new treatment, it seems that things are looking up for Alzheimer’s patients who are currently diagnosed without any hope of a recovery.
1.Alexander, Gene. “Alzheimer’s Disease.” Access Science. Online. McGraw-Hill. Red Land High School Lib., Lewisberry, PA. 21 Feb. 2008 .
2.Altman, Linda Jacobs. Alzheimer’s Disease. San Diego, CA: Lucent Books Inc., 2001.
3.Coghlan, Andy. “New Treatment ‘rescues’ brains of Alzheimer’s mice.” 24 Aug. 2006. NewScientist.com News Service. 19 Feb. 2008
4.”Dementia.” National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. 9 Sept. 2007. Medline Plus. 26 Feb. 2008