The BrightFocus Alzheimer’s Disease Research Program, which has awarded more than $100 million to scientists conducting innovative Alzheimer’s research, invited me to be the voice of caregivers on a panel in Houston moderated by sports radio legend, Barry Warner, along with scientists Dr. Joseph Masdeu (Director of the Nantz National Alzheimer Center and Neuroimaging at the Houston Methodist Neurological and Research Institute), and Dr. Hui Zheng, (Director of the Huffington Center on Aging; Baylor College of Medicine), to discuss Alzheimer’s Disease: The Next Five Years: Research, Treatment, Caregiving.
The day after the panel, I went with the BrightFocus Board to tour the research lab at Baylor College of Medicine. It was fascinating to see first hand how Alzheimer’s research is done. Dr. Zheng welcomed us to her lab where we were able to see both normal human brains and Alzheimer’s brains under powerful microscopes. Try as I might, I couldn’t help but think of Gene Wilder (who died of Alzheimer’s) and the scene from Young Frankenstein when Marty Feldman accidentally grabbed an abnormal brain, thinking that it was that of a person named “Abby Normal.”
But seriously, folks:
Principal Investigator (ADR): Joanna Jankowsky, PhD, allowed us to see research in action in her Baylor lab where she is “using a simple animal model that has some of the pathological features of Alzheimer’s Disease to examine the extent to which environmental surroundings can influence the evolution of the disease. In this case, mice that carry either the mutant APP gene alone or mutant APP and PS1 together are being examined in a controlled setting, to try to determine the extent to which environmental stimuli can influence the evolution of brain pathology.”
I watched these cute little mice swim around looking for and learning where to find a platform hidden in the tank. There were visual cues placed around the room that helped the mice remember where the platform was so that every time they were placed back into the tank, they were able to swim directly to the platform. Mice with Alzheimer’s were unable to remember how to find the platform.
We spent the rest of day listening to lectures by some the world’s leading Alzheimer’s research scientists, including: Principal Investigator (ADR): Huda Zoghbi, MD, Co-Principal Investigator (ADR): Juan Botas, PhD, and Principal Investigator (ADR Fellowship): Stacy Ann Decker Grunke, PhD. By the end of the day, my head was swimming like the mice in the tank, but I walked away with newfound hope that a treatment or a cure could be just on the horizon! These scientists truly are “research rock stars,” or should I say their students are?
If all of this medical info is going over your head, watch “Bad Project,” Hui Zheng’s lab’s parody of Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance with a science twist.