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The Body Scientific

Alzheimer’s II

Our previous column described the history of Alzheimer’s disease and the theories about what causes it. These theories center on the over-accumulation of two proteins: tau and beta-amyloid. The proponents of the beta-amyloid theory developed a monoclonal antibody that binds to amyloid plaques. The combination of beta-amyloid and an antibody bound to it induces scavenger cells called macrophages to recognize the complex and chew it up. The prediction was that with the plaques decreased, patients should improve.

The Aging Brain: a series

Most of the neurodegenerative diseases of aging were described a century or more ago and named after the physicians who described them — Alzheimer, Parkinson, or Huntington. Lou Gehrig disease was named after its most famous victim. We are little better at treating them now than when they were described. Parkinson’s disease has a treatment that mitigates the symptoms, but does not slow the course of the disease. The neurodegenerative diseases are characterized by gradual deterioration and death of neurons. They are a grim group; none of them has a cure. Why is that?

Shingles vaccine: Too underused

The Body Scientific

For a routine childhood rite of passage, chickenpox has a remarkably sinister side. Long after the itching and the “dewdrop on a rose petal” rash have faded, remnants of the infection remain.

Parsing the political platforms

Normally, this column tries to explain the science behind important discoveries or diseases. It makes the case for rational approaches to life’s problems. But sometimes all that fair-mindedness can get a person down, especially during an election season, when assertion seems to be the going currency.

Parsing the political platforms

Normally, this column tries to explain the science behind important discoveries or diseases. It makes the case for rational approaches to life’s problems. But sometimes all that fair-mindedness can get a person down, especially during an election season, when assertion seems to be the going currency.

New optimism on challenges related to autism

Autism is a difficult subject — the diagnosis is problematic and treatment has been limited. The incidence, for reasons known and unknown, has been increasing (see my column of June 4, 2012, available online at www.tricornernews.com). Many people at the least severe end of the autism spectrum have learned to be productive and to employ the way their minds work to advantage. But at its most severe, autism is a lifelong and devastating prospect for those affected and their families.

New optimism on the challenges related to autism

The Body Scientific

Autism is a difficult subject — the diagnosis is problematic and treatment has been limited. The incidence, for reasons known and unknown, has been increasing (see my column of June 4, 2012, available online at www.tricornernews.com). Many people at the least severe end of the autism spectrum have learned to be productive and to employ the way their minds work to advantage. But at its most severe, autism is a lifelong and devastating prospect for those affected and their families.

What story does the DNA tell us?

The Body Scientific

When I was a Ph.D. student in the late 1960s, a scientist determined the exact DNA sequence that encoded the plan for part of a protein. He and his team sequenced 23 bases of DNA and it took them a year. We thought it was marvelous in concept and execution — and it was.

The increase in autism: analyzing cause and effect

The Body Scientific

The British science magazine Nature recently produced an issue dedicated to autism (www.nature.com/autism). Autism is defined by a regression of development in young children and a deterioration of language and social skills. It is also associated with repetitive behavior and sometimes a fascination with specific objects. The severity of the problem varies greatly, leading to the term autism spectrum disorder or, at the milder end, Asperger’s Syndrome. Helping a child with autism or an autism spectrum disorder is an enormous challenge.

The increase in autism: analyzing cause and effect

The Body Scientific

The British science magazine Nature recently produced an issue dedicated to autism (www.nature.com/autism). Autism is defined by a regression of development in young children and a deterioration of language and social skills. It is also associated with repetitive behavior and sometimes a fascination with specific objects. The severity of the problem varies greatly, leading to the term autism spectrum disorder or, at the milder end, Asperger’s Syndrome. Helping a child with autism or an autism spectrum disorder is an enormous challenge.