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Can Down’s Syndrome Help Cure Alzheimer’s?

By Shlomo  Maital   

Down's

About eight years ago, the BBC reported this: 

   Scientists believe they have found a possible cause for mental impairment in Down’s syndrome.   They have identified a gene that, if over-produced, can cause some brain cells to stop working properly. The next step, say the US researchers in journal Neuron, is to find the mechanism for the process.  This, they say, could ultimately lead to finding a way to “turn down” the gene expression so mental decline might be stopped or even reversed.   People with Down’s syndrome have three copies of chromosome 21, instead of the normal two – this is called trisomy 21.  ….Many people with Down’s syndrome go on to develop dementia, similar to early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, by the age of 40.   In both Down’s syndrome and this form of Alzheimer’s, brain cells, or neurons, responsible for learning, memory and attention, wither and die.    Lead researcher Professor William Mobley, director of the Neuroscience Institute at Stanford University, said: “We’ve been interested in those neurons and why they get sick for some time.”

   Now, reports the BBC, in its excellent Science program,  Down’s syndrome persons are making major contributions to Alzheimer’s research.  Because Down’s syndrome individuals almost all develop the same type of ‘plaque’ dementia that afflicts Alzheimer’s sufferers, potential preventive drugs can be tested on Down’s syndrome persons well before they are 40, to see which drug actually works as a preventative, and whether such drugs really do prevent  the brain’s neurons from being gummed up by protein.

    It would be truly wonderful, if the Down’s syndrome persons willing to help scientists research Alzheimer’s  really do help find a drug that acts as a preventative.  Perhaps one day,  just as many of us take 75 mg. of aspirin daily as a stroke preventive,  we will take 75 mg. of a preventive drug daily– and the scourge of Alzheimer’s dementia will be defeated.     Once the protein plaque has taken hold, little can be done.  But clearly the direction for battling Alzheimer’s lies in preventing or forestalling it.   Let’s hope. 

     Thanks, Down’s people.  We love you.

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The Three Biggest Ideas in History – and The Biggest of All

By Shlomo  Maital   

 Big Idea

  I’m reading a big thick book,  Peter Watson’s book “Ideas: a history of thought and invention, from fire to Freud”, [Harper Perennial, 2006], over 800 pages, and 75 pages of close endnotes.

Let me try to summarize it for you,  though I recommend that you try to plough through it.

   Watson says that the three most influential ideas in history (only a very brave person would assert he could identify the three BIGGIES!) are:

  • The soul
  • The idea of Europe
  • The experiment.

 

  Now, Watson does not say this, but two of this big ideas have really not worked out too well.  The soul?  Well, this idea is a foundation of religion.  And religion has caused death, wars, suffering, persecution, and continues to do so (see ISIS, Hamas, and other fundamentalists), though for many (including me) religion does bring comfort and service to others. 

    Europe?  Well, European unity  has ended wars within Europe, especially between France and Germany.  But by placing monetary union ahead of political union, Europe put the cart before the horse, and horses are very poor at pushing carts, though good at pulling them.   There is a good chance England may opt out of Europe, and that will be a severe blow.

    But the experiment.  Now THERE is an idea.  How do you learn about the world? Well, you can pretend you know.  But as Goethe said,   thinking is better than knowing, but looking is best of all.   So, you learn about the world by trying experiments.  If you’r a scientist, you have a lab and you can do controlled experiments. If you’re a social scientist, you let the world be your lab and watch closely for natural experiments – places where unusual things happen – and learn from them.  If you’re an entrepreneur, by definition you are an experimentalist.  Your product is by definition an experiment.  The only way you will learn if it truly creates value, is by getting it out into the marketplace, and have people use it.

      So, Peter Watson,  you got one right out of three.  We all should become experimenters.  This is a mindset.  Don’t be afraid to try things.  Don’t be afraid to fail (most experiments fail).  See my previous blog.   And become an experimenter in your daily life as well. Try new foods, music, books, magazines, TV programs..welcome experiments, even though they may be uncomfortable.  (The old familiar stuff is comfortable, the new unfamiliar stuff is Uncomfortable).   Soon, you will become more comfortable with experiments.  And the mindset will spread to your work as entrepreneur and innovator.   

 

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital
August 2014
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