Sunday, November 27, 2016

Not All Beasts Are Fantastic

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I went to see J.K. Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them movie with my grandkids and daughter-in-law. I’ll admit that my granddaughter had to keep whispering information to me since I’m not a big reader of fantasy and (gasp!) have not read a single Harry Potter novel, much less the prequel story of Newt Scamander. She might as well have been speaking a foreign language although I often nodded and tried to absorb the information. I am definitely a No-Maj.

No, I don’t need to give a spoiler alert here. During the course of the movie, buildings were destroyed and then magically repaired. That’s why it’s called fantasy, folks, because we all know that when something is destroyed it takes a lot of work and tenacity to rebuild it.

Sometimes, I have thought of Alzheimer’s as a beast. Just like in the movie, the beast burrows beneath the surface, but in this case, wreaks havoc in the brain. The Alzheimer’s beast is made up of two halves—beta-amyloid  plaques and tau tangles.

The Alzheimer’s beast builds a roadblock between brain cells making it hard for them to communicate with each other. The beast murders brain nerve cells, which causes tissue loss. The thinking-planning-remembering part of the brain, the cortex, begins to wither. The hippocampus where we develop new memories is especially hard hit by Alzheimer’s and shrinks dramatically. The fluid filled spaces in the brain, the ventricles, become larger as the rest of the brain shrinks.

Unlike the movie, the damage caused by the Alzheimer’s beast cannot be repaired by waving a magic wand. I believe that someday—sooner, than later, I sincerely hope—researchers will find a means to stop Alzheimer’s in its insidious tracks.

Research involves a lot of trial and failure. I received disappointing news from the Alzheimer’s Association last week. Eli Lilly’s experimental drug, solanezumab, had earlier shown promise in slowing the deterioration of thinking and memory, but failed in a large clinical trial.

Better news comes out of the University of Kansas Alzheimer’s Disease Center. The National Institute on Aging, part of the National Institutes of Health, renewed the center’s national designation for five years. This center in the heart of America will receive $9.0 million through 2021 to continue their search to understand Alzheimer’s and treat the disease.

Douglas Girod, executive vice chancellor of  KU Medical Center said, “When the NIA first announced in August 2011 that the KU Alzheimer’s Disease Center (KU ADC) had achieved national designation, we were thrilled, but not surprised. We knew that our Alzheimer’s program had long been at the forefront of discovery and had already achieved significant success in understanding and treating this devastating disease.”

The center will be studying lifestyle changes as well as drug intervention in changing the course of the disease. Jeffery Burns, MD, co-director of the center announced that several clinical trials are examining the heart/brain connection: what’s good for the heart is good for the brain. KU ADC plans to expand the Lifetime Enrichment for Lifestyle Prevention (LEAP) program as a way to promote brain health in residents of senior living facilities.

Okay, how can you help? One of the roadblocks to these programs is a lack of volunteers. The biggest need right now is for healthy volunteers who are Hispanic or African American, but they need clinical volunteers of all types.

Alzheimer’s may seem like a beast that can’t be beaten, but when we promote Alzheimer’s research and make finding a cure a national priority, we can drive the beast from our midst.

I’ve already admitted I’m not a fan of fantasy, but this No-Maj is a fan of fact. It is a fact that lifestyle can reduce our risk of Alzheimer’s, and that researchers are working hard to find a prevention, treatment, or cure. When researchers unlock the mystery of Alzheimer’s disease, it will be magical in its own way.


Copyright © November 2016 by L.S. Fisher

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