Make Sure of It

Did you have a chance to see the Grammys?  Adele was a huge winner, the Foo Fighters asked everyone to actually play an instrument, and there were several stirring tributes to Whitney Houston.  One of the most inspiring moments was the tribute to and performance of Glen Campbell.

In June of last year, Campbell revealed that he had Alzheimer’s disease.  He’s 75 now, and has had a stellar career.  He’s known for such hits as Wichita Lineman, By the Time I Get to Phoenix, and Rhinestone Cowboy.  He has performed with Frank Sinatra, The Monkees, Elvis, and the Righteous Brothers, and for a time was a full-fledged member of the Beach Boys.  At the Grammy Awards he performed a medley of hits with the Band Perry and Blake Shelton.

Campbell still tours (after all, he’s promoting a new album!), and he has a few ringers in his band to help him along.  In addition to using a teleprompter to remember the lyrics to songs that he’s been singing for 50 years, he is joined by his brother, Shannon, on rhythm guitar, his sister, Ashley, on keyboards and violin, and his son, Cal, on drums.  One of Campbell’s symptoms is a loss of short-term memory, and when he goes astray, the family and his gadgets get him back on the rails.

Glen Campbell certainly isn’t the only professional in the spotlight working around his disease.  Pat Summit, the longtime coach of the University of Tennessee women’s basketball team, has eight NCAA Division Championships, 16 SEC Championships, and is an eight-time SEC Coach of the Year and seven-time NCAA Coach of the Year.  When she announced her diagnosis of Alzheimer’s in August she told the assembled media that she planned on continuing her career.  In typical Coach Summit style, she said, “There’s not going to be any pity party, and I’ll make sure of that.”  She’s led the Lady Vols to a 19-7 record so far this season, and when they meet Kentucky on February 13, part of the proceeds will go towards a cause that she truly believes in.  It’s not Alzheimer’s research, but cancer awareness.  Coach Summit lost a colleague, Kay Yow, to cancer a couple of years ago.

There is some exciting news on the research front, and it could have implications in the search for a cure or treatment of such diseases as Parkinson’s, Lou Gehrig’s, and Huntington’s.

Last May, 39-year-old Ted Harada was diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease.  ALS is the disease affecting Stephen Hawking, and while he has lived with it for 40 years, the average person dies two to three years after the first symptoms appear.  ALS robs your body of life, but leaves your mind otherwise intact.  Scientists at Emory University and in Israel have been experimenting with stem cells to slow the progress of the disease.  While expectations are low, and Harada is still living with the disease, he no longer needs a cane to walk and has a somewhat active lifestyle.

Biologists at Sloan-Kettering in New York have been using stem cells to treat mice and rats with Parkinson’s.  The transplanted cells produce dopamine, a chemical that is not efficiently produced in a Parkinson’s patient.  Animals that received the new cells saw a cease in their Parkinson’s symptoms.

Researchers at the University of California San Diego have used stem cells to recreate Alzheimer’s neurons.  That gives them a better picture of how the disease operates and allows for more robust research.

A few days ago, a study published by Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland reported a possible breakthrough towards a cure for Alzheimer’s.  A drug that treated a cell lymphoma, or cancer, caused mice to produce less of a type of peptide that causes dementia.  Mice with dementia were treated with the cancer drug and resumed normal mouse behaviors within 6 hours, and the effects lasted for as long as three days.

Over the last year, geneticists in England and here in the United States were able to target an enzyme that is associated with Huntington’s disease.  Using fruit flies, they were able to inhibit the growth of this enzyme, and while it is not a cure, the news certainly did constitute a breakthrough towards the treatment of the disease.

While all of this research is very promising, we are still pretty far away from human trials and cures.  While the scientific community does its thing, Stephen Hawking helps us to make some sense of the universe, and Glen Campbell sings and plays his guitar.  As millions learn to live with the diagnosis of one of these tragic diseases, Pat Summit teaches her players how to win basketball games.

In the mean time, it’s not a pity party.  Make sure of that.

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