Daffodils and Dementia
✿ It’s spring time in Maryland, and in the words of the poet Wordsworth, my heart dances with the daffodils. Through the long winter, I conjured up memories of these cheerful blooms in my mind:
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
✿ But an estimated 44 million people world wide who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease are robbed of their memories by a progressive dementia. As the 6th leading cause of death in the U.S., Alzheimer’s cannot be cured or prevented. One of the handful of drugs available to improve memory loss in patients is galantamine, which is extracted from the leaves and bulbs of daffodils (Narcissus) and snowdrops (Galanthus). These extracts have been in use since ancient times. In Homer’s Greek epic, Odysseus is said to have used snowdrops to clear his mind bewitched by Circe. In the 1950s, a pharmacologist observed inhabitants of a remote Bulgarian village rubbing the extracts on their forehead and shortly after, the drug was approved for medical use. Galantamine increases the action of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine in some parts of the brain, both by making the receptor more sensitive to its action and by slowing down its removal. The drug has other interesting properties: it is said to promote lucid dreaming, improve sleep quality, memory loss in brain damage, and some autistic symptoms (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galantamine).
✿ No drug has yet stopped the inexorable progress of Alzheimer’s. Early intervention is key to effective treatment: in my lab, for example, we are studying endosomal pathology which is the earliest sign of problems at the cellular level (http://goo.gl/DtVUFT). Yet lack of funding stifles productive research. As Newt Gingrich points out in his recent Op-Ed for New York Times, we spend only 0.8% of the estimated 154 billion dollars of annual medical costs related to Alzheimer’s disease on research to cure or prevent it.
News Story: Newt Gingrich: Double the NIH Budget. April 22, 2015 http://goo.gl/Fq4PAS
Daffodil GIF: http://headlikeanorange.tumblr.com/