How to Get a Job and Potentially Cure Alzheimer’s

Phone interview pro tip: Always have your computer on hand so you can google stuff when you have no idea what your interviewer is talking about.

As a college senior, I’ve had a lot of phone interviews recently, and let me tell you, I’ve been doing some serious stealthy googling.  Most recently, I had an interview for my absolute dream job (fingers crossed) and about halfway through, my interviewer mentioned a new Alzheimer’s drug he had heard about on NPR recently.  Without thinking, I blurted out, oh, I heard about that too!  Immediate panic…I had no idea what he was referring to.  Luckily, I had my computer on hand, and with a quick google search, I had located the article, and skimmed the abstract of the study.  It was about that cancer drug that might slow the progression of the disease, right?  I confidently prompted.  In fact, it was, and I could hear in my interviewer’s voice that he was impressed that I had known (ok, yeah, I felt a little guilty, but a girl needs a job!)  Anyway, the interview went well, and I went on with my day.  I didn’t think about that moment again until I sat down to think about what to write for this post.  I realized I hadn’t actually ever read the full article, and as someone who works with Alzheimer’s patients, I figured I probably should education myself.  So, I relocated the article, and gave it the read it deserved.

As I like to do in these posts, I want to first give a little background on what Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is before continuing.  Essentially, AD is the most common form of dementia that leads to memory difficulties as well as difficulties with thinking and behavior.  While most those with AD are 65 and over, about 200,000 Americans under the age of 65 are diagnosed with what is called early-onset Alzheimer’s, each year.

Alzheimer’s changes the brain. 

The disease, as it progresses, leads to nerve cell loss and tissue death in the brain, and additionally, in many of the brains of Alzheimer’s patients, there has been discovered what are called plaques and tangles.  The plaques are called amyloid plaques, and the tangles are tangled bundles of fibers called tau tangles.  If the brain was a plate of spaghetti and meatballs, there would be far too many meatballs and clumps of tangled up noodles, and it wouldn’t taste very good probably.  Another key feature of the disease is an eventual loss of connection between neurons in the brain, such that the ability to carry out simple tasks is ultimately lost.   As of now, AD is considered irreversible, progressive and eventually terminal.    The Alzheimer’s Association website is a good source, if you’re looking to learn more about the disease, as is the National Institute of Ageing’s website.  For some individuals suffering from AD there is a genetic component involved.  For the sake of simplicity, I will link a helpful guide here that discusses the genetics of the disease.  Just know this: there is no one “thing” researchers have been able to point to and say aha! That’s it, THAT causes AD.

OK…so is there any hope for a cure?

While there is still no known cure for AD yet, progress has been made in regards to slowing down the progression of the disease.  One such example being a cancer drug that might slow the progression of the disease, and is the subject of that article I told you about earlier (you know..the one I googled and then pretended to know all about).  Basically, there is this drug called nilotinib which treats a rare form of leukemia.  Two years ago, a group of scientists at Georgetown University found that a small dose of the drug seemed to help a sample of patients with suffering from dementia (it also helped those with Parkinson’s disease).   The researchers originally got the idea to try the drug on AD patients because nilotinib is designed to promote cells to get rid of faulty components, including those related to some brain diseases.  One scientist described the drug as a sort of garbage-disposal that works to rid the brain of the toxic proteins that build up in the brains of both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s patients.  Like any finding, it is important to acknowledge that one finding, in one small study is not enough.  Georgetown knows this, though, and so the University is now launching two more much larger trials of the drug.  One important thing that will be determined is whether a powerful cancer drug like nilotinib is safe enough to be taken by those with brain disease.

I’ve worked with Alzheimer’s patients for three continuous years now, and what has always stuck with me is how much hope they have for an eventual cure.  I’ve seen the way this disease changes people, saddens loved ones, and ultimately destroys lives.  I’ve also seen the miracles that modern science has accomplished, and so I have hope.  Who knows, maybe it will be this obscure cancer drug that one day becomes the cure.






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