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Alzheimer’s Breakthrough?

By Shlomo Maital

Alzheimer plaque

   Alzheimer’s Disease causes some 70 per cent of all dementia. In terms of the numbers who suffer from it, the WHO (World Health Organization) estimates that in absolute numbers 26.6 million, with a huge range of 11.4–59.4 million,   were afflicted by AD, in the world,   and, most significant,   the prevalence rate would triple and the absolute number would quadruple by 2050.  So it would not be an exaggeration to call Alzheimer’s an epidemic.

     According to Lisa Desjardins, PBS News Hour: More than five million Americans live with the degenerative brain disease that robs people of their memory. It is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S     Yet Alzheimer’s research is seriously underfunded. America’s National Cancer Institutes alone get some $5 billion a year. On pure economic grounds, a small fraction of that sum could be better invested in the causes of dementia. Few people today have been untouched by it.

     New research led by Harvard scientists brings hope that the cause of Alzheimer’s, still unknown, will soon be unraveled:

     “….a study led by Harvard University researchers and published this week in the journal “Science Translational Medicine” suggests that Alzheimer’s could stem from the brain’s past attempts to fight off infections.”

   According to Rob Moir, a researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital:   “Alzheimer’s disease and the neurodegeneration you see with it is thought to be caused by a little protein that forms this concrete like substance in your brain called amyloid. Amyloid, it turns out, is actually be an antimicrobial pit pod, that is to say it is a natural antibiotic that defends against infection in the brain, and if you get a virus or a bacteria that gets into the brain, it rises to do better with it and binds to it and then entraps it in these long fibers and eventually entombs it forever. And as they mount in number, eventually they start to be toxic to our own cells, and that leads to the neurodegeneration. So, that’s what I bet it does.”

     In short – Alzheimer’s is caused by amyloid plaque. Amyloid plaque in turn appears to be a result of the brain’s efforts to fight infection.  

     So what?   Notes Moir: “So if it does turn out to be an infection, there is a possibility of treating people before they get AD with vaccines, to target those particular bugs so that the pathogens don’t get a chance to infect the brain.”

     Let’s follow this research closely.   One day those 50 and over may get a vaccine, like those given to children, that protect their brains. As a senior citizen, few things scare me – but the idea that my brain may one day become scrambled is a major fear. The new Harvard research offers us hope.      

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Stories and Feelings: Powerful Tools for Creative Thinking

By Shlomo Maital

Feelings in History

 My last blog was posted nearly two months ago, on March 30. Shortly after, I left for China, for teaching and lecturing. WordPress was not accessible in China. Then, on returning home, I somehow found it hard to restart the blog machine. I deeply regret this, because knowing I have blog readers keeps my eyes and ears open for ideas….   So, this is a ‘restart’, hopefully with no more long regrettable silences…

       Nobel Laureate in Economics Robert Shiller (Yale) wrote a wonderful piece in the New York Times, Jan 22, 2016, “How stories drive the stock market”. Shiller is the author of a fine book, Finance and the Good Society, about how finance could be (but alas, sometimes is not) part of the solution, not part of the problem.

      In his NYT piece, Shiller refers to psychologist Jerome Bruner, who showed how popular narratives (human interest stories) are “fundamental drivers of motivation”.

Shiller discusses the sharp decline in the U.S. stock market since early January, and describes the ‘stories’ that explain it. First, the slowdown in the Chinese economy – “gross exaggeration” of its importance for the U.S. Second story: “record for poor performance of the stock market in the first week of the year”… Third story: low oil prices.   Fourth: tripling of the US stock market from 2009-14, and its “unwinding this year”. Many missed the big tripling, owing to pessimism and fear after the 2008 crash.   This created heightened sensibility about a possible fall, after such a surprising precipitous rise.

     Shiller cites a fine book by fellow Yale professor Ransay MacMullen,   Feelings in History: Ancient and Modern, (2003), in which he writes, “History is feeling. It is feelings that make us do what we do. And feelings can in fact be read. But the reading of them requires writers and readers to join their minds in ways that have long been out of fashion among students of history”.

     History, financial markets, consumer spending, virtually everything in our economy is driven by feelings. And feelings are evoked by stories about people, challenges, conflicts, crises and how they deal with them.

       Conclusion?   When you invest, try to analyze the prevailing ‘narrative’ or story that is driving human behavior, including the emotions underlying it. Is it valid? Is it evidence-based? Or is it superstition and empty guesswork?   If the narrative is groundless, sooner or later (it might well be much later!), the story will change and reverse.  Consider a contrarian (buy when everyone is selling) strategy.

       What is the TRUE story? The real narrative?   How do you know? What stories are people telling themselves?  

         In your startup business – what is YOUR underlying story, the story about how you create value for your clients?   Is it powerful? What emotion does it evoke?

       Feelings drive behavior. If you’re investing, a buyer, analyze which feelings are at work, and why, by identifying the dominant stories. If you’re an entrepreneur, a seller, shape your stories, by identifying clearly the motion you want to create with your innovation, then build everything you do around it, with a powerful narrative.

        

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital
May 2016
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