Medicine has changed dramatically in just the past one-hundred and fifty years. During the civil war the best medicine could offer was whiskey for the pain and a saw to cut off a limb. And herbal medicines to treat the common cold or even headaches. Now we can use anesthetics to sleep through a surgeon removing and replacing our hearts and we can reroute neural networks to allow paralyzed fingers to move again. And have medicines that can kill some of the worst bacteria. More and more diseases of the nervous system are being discovered and diagnosed. The concerning part is that because a lot of these diseases are very complex and little is understood about them that finding and creating cures for them is a slow and daunting task. One problem with nervous system diseases that say cancer patients do not have is that you cannot just remove the brain of a patient and test it to hopefully find something to cure a disease that is destroying the brain. So researchers can for the most part only use noninvasive techniques like different types of imagining to study these diseases.
My project will be on the disease Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s is a very interesting disease because it is thought to be caused by a prion which is an abnormally folded protein that causes many things to go wrong in the body. Alzheimer’s is an irreversible, progressive neurodegenerative disease. Meaning that the disease occurs in stages and as the patient progresses through the stages they lose more and more cognitive control, memory, and basic human abilities. Eventually the brain is so destroyed that it can no longer function, causing death. Because so little is known about what actually causes the disease new and innovative medicines are needed to treat and hopefully cure the disease. One of these methods is known as a cocktail method. When this method was created using a combination of known antiretroviral drugs by Dr. David Ho it was revolutionary in the way that HIV was dealt with. Thousands of people after taking these drugs began to feel like alive again. And while now it may seem like well yeah if you take one drug that stops one thing and another that stops another thing then all of your problems will be taken care of. But when Dr. David Ho created this method it was unheard of and over the past few decades it has since been improved and is now used all over the world by AIDS patients. The same principle is now being applied to other diseases that no ordinary cure has been effective for, such as Alzheimer’s. Two enzymes, beta-secretase and gamma-secretase are responsible for breaking down amyloid precursor protein. When these enzymes break down this protein it produces amyloid plaque. This plaque is what accumulates in the brain and destroys nearly all brain functions. Genetic determinism is part of why these proteins allow the buildup of amyloid plaques. Only a specific gene sequence will lead to these malfunctioning proteins.