I’m very forgetful. Really. I’d be talking to you and if I’m interrupted by someone, I will lose my train of thought. Now that being said, I can’t even imagine understanding what an Alzheimer’s patient might experience.
Alzheimer’s is an irreversible, progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills and, eventually, the ability to carry out the simplest tasks. The NIH estimates that more than 5 million people suffer from Alzheimer’s in the United States. People with Alzheimer’s have trouble performing regular everyday tasks like driving a car, cooking a meal, or paying bills. They may ask the same questions repeatedly, get lost easily, forget where they’ve kept things, and find even simple things confusing.
As the disorder progresses, people can become worried, angry, or violent. Who could blame them?
Imagine forgetting friends or the people you live with. Or everyday muscle movements or how to maintain basic personal hygiene?
You used to know how to do this. In fact, you did this, day in and day out 24/7, 365 days a year, multiply by say 65 years (Assuming you’re 70 and the first five years don’t count, because who remembers those anyway!). Scary, isn’t it?
So, do we have a solution yet? Well, maybe.
Welcome to the 21st century.
In a recent study, scientists have now managed to erase damage caused by Alzheimer’s in a human brain cell. So if you have a particular gene, you’re susceptible to Alzheimer’s, but if you have two copies of it, your chances of getting Alzheimer’s increases by 12-fold. This gene forms a certain kind of protein that loves to clump together. This means that your brain cells (neurons) can’t pass messages to each other like they normally do. When these cells can’t perform their regular functions over time, they die. Researchers found that by just by changing the structure of this annoying protein and making it harmless, they could increase the survival of brain cells!
In another study, scientists may have figured out how to transfer memories in sea snails. They gave electric shocks to one group and then transferred some RNA from them to another group that didn’t receive shocks. The new group had the same shock-avoiding reflexes as the first one! I can’t wait for this study to be replicated in humans. Imagine being in research and working hard to prove your theory. You work really hard and just when you’re about to have a breakthrough, you drop dead (yes, literally).
Why? Well, life sucks and you never know what will happen.
The person who works the same job after you will have to begin from scratch. Moreso, if you never had the chance to document your most recent research or your most brilliant but yet un-proved findings. If you could transfer your memories, the person could pick up right where you left off, thus not only carrying on your legacy of work but saving, perhaps millions of dollars, in redoing experiments.
When great minds like Einstein, or more recently, Steve Jobs or Stephen Hawking died, imagine the possibilities had we been capable of transferring their memories. We may have even been able to understand their thought processes.
If this study is scaled up, each of us may possibly benefit completely from the wisdom of our forefathers.
If the snail study can be replicated successfully in humans, we may also have a better idea on how memory is stored. We can then work on treatments that combat and possibly even reduce memory loss in patients with Alzheimer’s and dementia.
We could also possibly enhance the suppression of specific memories in cases of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The brain is one of the most complex and unpredictable organs to work with. Let’s hope the 21st century brings in an additional understanding of how it works, so that if not physically, at least mentally, we might live forever.