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New Thinking on Alzheimer’s: Time for a Paradigm Shift?
By Shlomo Maital
Scientific breakthroughs come from iconoclastic researchers who are not afraid to smash consensus paradigms. Take, for instance, Prof. Michal Schwarz, of Israel’s Weizmann Institute. Here is what she told this week’s Haaretz (Hebrew) reporter:
The puzzle I pieced together is correct, and now I see the whole picture – how my research approach, for years against the consensus, has become one of the central focal points for research on all degenerative (neural) diseases.
The paradigm shift Schwarz has helped bring about is simple. Many researchers follow the “I dropped a coin” model – they look for it under the corner streetlight, instead of in dark corners, where it fell, because…. “that’s where the light is”. Alzheimer’s? Gooey proteins gumming up the brain and causing death? Look for cures that eliminate or prevent the protein directly, in the brain. Under the light.
But Schwarz? Let’s help the body’s own anti-immune system, outside the brain, fight those plaque accumulations that damage the brain. Last year the Daily Telegraph quoted Dr. Doug Brown, a leading Alzheimer’s researcher: “Repurposing drugs that already work for other conditions could provide us with a shortcut to new dementia treatments, and is a key aspect of our Drug Discovery programme.”
Here ‘s how the Daily Telegraph described Schwarz’s paradigm shift, in 2016: “The drugs, known as PD-1 blockers, effectively prevent the immune system from switching off, allowing a continuous cascade of soldier cells to fight disease and clear out damage in the body. In the case of Alzheimer’s disease sticky amyloid plaques build up which stop brain cells communicating with each other. But when mice, engineered to have Alzheimer’s symptoms, were given injections of the drug the amount of amyloid in their brains halved, and the animals were able to complete a maze task in the same time as control mice. Last year the first PD-1 blocker drug Keytruda was approved for use on the NHS by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence so it is already known to be a safe treatment.
“Lead author Prof Michal Schwartz of the Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, Israel, said that in Alzheimer’s a weakened immune system could be preventing the body from repairing itself. “We are extremely excited about our new study, we believe it is a game changer both conceptually and therapeutically,” she said.
Her research was published in the leading journal Nature Medicine.
Prof. Schwarz added: (in Hebrew): “In contrast to veteran old-time researchers, students have no history of believing dogma (existing paradigms)…they are fresh ears and eyes, without preconceptions. They were especially excited, with me, at our results, and joined my research and contributed to moving it forward, and some of them are continuing in my wake.”
As a (very) senior citizen, I have deep interest in breakthrough research on Alzheimer’s – half of those over 85 have it, at least early versions. Congratulations to Prof. Schwarz for becoming a woman scientist and for leading a paradigm shift that may help millions – including those in countries that despise Israel.
National Happiness – 2013 Rankings
By Shlomo Maital
Three eminent economists – Richard Layard, John Helliwell and Jeffrey Sachs – combine to prepare an annual World Happiness Report. Their measure is based on self-assessed happiness, interpreted as “satisfaction with life” together with the perceived emotion of wellbeing. In their latest report, for the years 2010-12, (see above), Scandinavian and Northern European countries rank highest, along with Canada, Austria, and surprisingly, my country Israel (11th), despite the Mideast conflict, and Costa Rica, a relatively poor but serene and beautiful country. Note that Mexico, at 16th, ranks above the United States, despite the latter’s $50,000 GDP per capita.
Why? The answer is simple. Happiness, note the authors, is driven in part by the standard of living (per capita GDP), but also by life expectancy, social support, freedom to make life choices, and generosity. This is why Qatar, the wealthiest country in the world by far, with per capita GDP of nearly $100,000, ranks only 27th, because it is a rigid autocracy.
I am amazed at how poorly individuals and whole nations practice the simple art of best-practice benchmarking. If you are a political leader, and if your avowed goal is to improve the wellbeing of your citizens, the ones who elected you, would you not explore the world and visit the places in which people are the happiest, and try to find out why? And would you not try to bring home some of the “recipes” they use – income equality, social support, generosity, social cohesion?
I get this response very often when I make this argument: Israel is not Denmark. Followed by all the excuses. And my response is: Well – why isn’t it? Can we make it so?
There is a lesson for individuals in this Report, not just for countries. True, you do need a basic level of income to be happy. But you also need the love and support of family, the generosity of others, and good health (supplied, as a public good “health care”, by good governments, or at least they should). Even if you have high income, if you lack the other ingredients, the income may not help much. Keep this in mind.