Is Alzheimer’s Infectious, and Is a Vaccine Possible?
Dr. Leonard P. Guarente is an American biologist and director of MIT's Glenn Laboratory for the Science of Aging, where he is also a Novartis Professor of Biology. He is best known for his research on longevity and specifically for uncovering the gene in yeast that governs the organism's life span. He is the author of "Ageless Quest: One Scientist's Search for Genes That Prolong Youth," which was published in 2003 by Cold Spring Harbor Press.
Is Alzheimer’s Infectious, and Is a Vaccine Possible?
Meryl Comer: For the general public the other issue is, is Alzheimer’s infectious? What would...
Dr. Arancio: My take on it is that it might be, but wait a second. It’s not that I'm thinking it’s like a flu and you might get infected. However, we were talking before at tau protein. There is common work and showing that actually it could spread within the brain just like prion disease, the same way, so it starts from one area and then it spreads all over the brain, so it’s not infection in the sense that we understand normal get infected, but it could once it is initiated in a certain part of the brain there is the possibility. It’s not 100% sure, but there are people now we’re starting to see that there is this spreading within the brain, because this tau protein comes out of the cells and spreads to the next cells and then from one area and goes all over the brain and so the disease it’s classical normal... these plaques. They start from a part of the brain and what we call the temporal lobe an then goes from the lobe. At very end it just goes to the occipital lobe, which is where we see, so from this point of view there could, although it has not been totally demonstrated, but there are some people that are following along this path.
Meryl Comer: Dr. Gandy?
Dr. Gandy: I think for classical thoughts about infections I mean like epidemics of flu I would not put Alzheimer’s disease in that category. Back in the 80s a neurologist and scientist and NIH, Carlton Gatacheck and colleague Joe Gibbs tried very, very hard to transmit extracts... use extracts from human Alzheimer’s disease to give the disease to monkeys and they never ever saw any evidence that could be the case.
Meryl Comer: To Dr. Arancio. Dr. Arancio, is a vaccination possible?
Dr. Arancio: All the attempts that are done so far have failed, which does not mean that they will not work in the future. Indeed a very good amount of research in terms of treatment research done on this, on finding a vaccine. Then one thing that we should also know is that there are two kinds of vaccines. One kind of vaccine is what we call "active vaccination," which would be just the same thing that we do with the flu, so you take vaccine and you’re protected for a certain number of years in your life... of your life. In this case one would think about prevention of using vaccine to prevent the disease. There is also what they call passive vaccinations, which will be more short time [...] vaccine. Instead of giving, trying to prompt the body to make what you call the antibodies against the for instance beta amyloid, we give just the antibody that they have a short life. We have to say though that so far all the attempts to fix the problem have failed, but like all the others anyway. That’s what we’re facing, but it could be... it is for sure an interesting avenue to pursue. It would be great if at that time of birth or very short afterward if there were a vaccine, an active vaccination and that will protect us at the very end, but we have to be very careful there too because if for instance what do we vaccinate against? If we vaccinate against A-beta, which is this beta amyloid and if it has some normal function through our life it then could be a negative. We could get also negative effect.
Meryl Comer: For those who know the ravages or have watched the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease in a family, the notion that it might be reversible... Dr. Guarente?
Dr. Guarente: Is it possible?
Meryl Comer: Is it possible?
Dr. Guarente: Well I do get asked that question a lot more broadly about aging: "Is it possible?" And my belief in general is to think that almost anything is possible okay, where science is concerned. Now I do think that at the moment all the research effort is focused on slowing down Alzheimer’s, slowing down aging, slowing down the buildup of and the progression of what is happening in the brain and I think that is the way it has to start because I think we have to be able to do that as a prelude to doing anything more. Now if we can get to effective drugs that can slow the progression of Alzheimer’s and maybe even arrest the deterioration, then I think ultimately, yes, it’s possible. You can imagine replacing neurons that have died by stimulating division of stem cell, neuronal stem cells, and things of that sort, so I think, yes, it’s possible, but I think the way I organize my thoughts on this is first we have to think about the disease and how do we stop it. How do we stop the buildup of damage and how do we arrest it and then we can really... that might give us the space to think about can we actually reverse it and I would give the same kind of answer about aging.
Alzheimer’s starts in one area and spreads all over the brain, like an infection. Does this mean that it's possible to develop a vaccine?
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Political division is nothing new. Throughout American history there have been numerous flare ups in which the political arena was more than just tense but incideniary. In a letter addressed to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson once lamented about how an emotional fervor had swept over the populace in regards to a certain political issue at the time. It disturbed him greatly to see how these political issues seemed to seep into every area of life and even affect people's interpersonal relationships. At one point in the letter he states:
"I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."
Today, we Americans find ourselves in a similar situation, with our political environment even more splintered due to a number of factors. The advent of mass digital media, siloed identity-driven political groups, and a societal lack of understanding of basic discursive fundamentals all contribute to the problem.
Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.
The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?
Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression
In a 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey by Cato, it was found that 71% of Americans believe that political correctness had silenced important discussions necessary to our society. Many have pointed to draconian university policies regarding political correctness as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.
It's a great irony that, colleges, once true bastions of free-speech, counterculture and progressiveness, have now devolved into reactionary tribal politics.
Many years ago, one could count on the fact that universities would be the first places where you could espouse and debate any controversial idea without consequence. The decline of staple subjects that deal with the wisdom of the ancients, historical reference points, and civic discourse could be to blame for this exaggerated partisanship boiling on campuses.
Young people seeking an education are given a disservice when fed biased ideology, even if such ideology is presented with the best of intentions. Politics are but one small sliver for society and the human condition at large. Universities would do well to instead teach the principles of healthy discourse and engagement across the ideological spectrum.
The fundamentals of logic, debate and the rich artistic heritage of western civilization need to be the central focus of an education. They help to create a well-rounded citizen that can deal with controversial political issues.
It has been found that in the abstract, college students generally support and endorse the first amendment, but there's a catch when it comes to actually practicing it. This was explored in a Gallup survey titled: Free Expression on Campus: What college students think about First amendment issues.
In their findings the authors state:
"The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump's candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
upholding First Amendment ideals.
Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones, speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on controversial issues is "always acceptable."
With this in mind, the problems seen on college campuses are also being seen on a whole through other pockets of society and regular everyday civic discourse. Look no further than the dreaded and cliche prospect of political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.
Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner
As a result of this increased tribalization of views, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to engage in polite conversation with people possessing opposing viewpoints. The authors of a recent Hidden Tribes study broke down the political "tribes" in which many find themselves in:
- Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
- Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
- Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
- Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
- Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
- Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
- Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,
Understanding these different viewpoints and the hidden tribes we may belong to will be essential in having conversations with those we disagree with. This might just come to a head when it's Thanksgiving and you have a mix of many different personalities, ages, and viewpoints.
It's interesting to note the authors found that:
"Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."
You'll find that depending on what group you identify with, that nearly 100 percent of the time you'll believe in the same way the rest of your group constituents do.
Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:
- 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
- 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
- 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people's preferred gender pronouns.
- 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
- 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
- 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.
Understanding the fact that tribal membership indicates what you believe, can help you return to the fundamentals for proper political engagement
Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:
- Avoid logical fallacies. Essentially at the core, a logical fallacy is anything that detracts from the debate and seeks to attack the person rather than the idea and stray from the topic at hand.
- Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
- Have the idea that there is nothing out of bounds for inquiry or conversation once you get down to an even stronger or new perspective of whatever you were discussing.
- Keep in mind the maxim of : Do not listen with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand.
- We're not trying to proselytize nor shout others down with our rhetoric, but come to understand one another again.
- If we're tied too closely to some in-group we no longer become an individual but a clone of someone else's ideology.
Civic discourse in the divisive age
Debate and civic discourse is inherently messy. Add into the mix an ignorance of history, rabid politicization and debased political discourse, you can see that it will be very difficult in mending this discursive staple of a functional civilization.
There is still hope that this great divide can be mended, because it has to be. The Hidden Tribes authors at one point state:
"In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America's differences have become
dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
putting our democracy in peril.
Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."
We need to start teaching people how to approach subjects from less of an emotional or baseless educational bias or identity, especially in the event that the subject matter could be construed to be controversial or uncomfortable.
This will be the beginning of a new era of understanding, inclusion and the defeat of regressive philosophies that threaten the core of our nation and civilization.
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