I’m not a guy who visits the doctor very often (if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it), but I do enjoy reading about the Big Medical Breakthroughs that seem to surface in the newspaper every week or so. It’s comforting somehow to know that there are folks out there working 24/7 to cure the various horrific diseases that afflict the populace.
Last week’s Big Medical Breakthrough was a story about researchers who have discovered a more reliable method to diagnose Alzheimer’s. In case you missed it, you can read about it here. It seems that every pharmaceutical company is experimenting with a new drug to cure what everyone agrees is a terrible disease (I’ve seen it up close in my late father in law, and it’s not pretty), but the key is to diagnose it and treat it in its early stages. Trouble is, doctors aren’t very good at diagnosing it (which validates my view above, thank you very much).
So now comes Dr. Daniel Skovronsky and his company, Arvid Radiopharmaceuticals, with what everyone seems to agree is a promising new process to identify Alzheimer’s. Here’s how The New York Times described it:
Dr. Skovronsky thought he had a way to make scans work. He and his team had developed a dye that could get into the brain and stick to plaque. They labeled the dye with a commonly used radioactive tracer and used a PET scanner to directly see plaque in a living person’s brain. But the technology and the dye itself were so new they had to be rigorously tested.
So, just to review: If your doctor thinks you may be displaying symptoms of Alzheimer’s — which doctors admit they really can’t identify with any reliability — they would just inject radioactive dye into your brain (emphasis is mine) to see if just maybe their hunch was correct.
Now I don’t know about you, but I grew up at a time when radioactivity was considered kind of a dangerous thing. We didn’t stock Geiger counters in our kitchens or anything like that, but even as a schoolchild I knew that if I ran into a stranger on the street corner who asked me if he could inject radioactive dye into my brain I should run home right away and tell my mom.
I searched the Times story to see if maybe the reporter might have raised the tiniest bit of concern over a process that involves injecting radioactive dye into my brain (emphasis mine again — sorry) but found no such reservations. After all, Skovronsky had tested his dye:
Hospice patients were going to die soon and so, he reasoned, why not ask them to have scans and then brain autopsies afterward to see if the scans showed just what a pathologist would see. Some patients would be demented, others not.
The dye worked, much to Skovronsky’s delight. And I’m happy for him — I really am. He was able to show plaque on the brains of those (now dead) patients who had Alzheimer’s. But, unlike the doctor and his co-workers, I’m not breaking out the champagne just yet. In fact, I think it would be fair to argue that if you really wanted a reliable indicator of whether someone was not quite playing with a full deck, you’d just ask him if you can inject some radioactive dye into his brain. Those who politely decline, I would venture, still have all their marbles.
But what do I know about modern science? Maybe injecting radioactive dye into someone’s brain is not as big a deal as I think it is. Maybe I’m just kind of wimping out on the whole radioactivity thing. You know: Man up, dude! Take your radioactive dye in the brain like the rest of us, ya big baby!! It could just save you and your loved ones from the heartbreak of Alzheimer’s in your old age. Or not.
All that may be true, but while I’m still relatively lucid, I think I’m going to steer away from Dr. Skovronsky’s approach and keep going to the gym (had a great workout last night, BTW; still sticking to my post-it note plan described earlier). As noted in our “Build a Better Brain” piece from a few years back, that seems to be the most reliable way to stay sharp.