Making Sense of Making Sense (of Alzheimer's)

Mosaic, a science publication for the (UK's) Wellcome Trust, recently published a narrative summary by Michael Regnier about Alzheimer's and research. Here's the link (and check out the resources listed at the bottom, too).

Aside from my ongoing interest in Alzheimer's (links to my personal essays "Home" and "All I Can Say" are on this page), the article is interesting because of the way it's written: It uses detective fiction as a frame. Here's a link to a description of the writing process.

Fascinating stuff, for so many reasons. As Regnier says in his "how I wrote this" extra, it's hard to imagine a time when detective fiction didn't exist.

A semi-disturbing element of the story (not its main focus): the nature of competition in scientific research, and the fallout thereof.

The idealistic side of me wants to believe that competition in science is somehow "pure" and disinterested--that all involved are working for the best interests of patients and caregivers and families. However, my practical side acknowledges the reality: of course money is part of the story. Slowing the disease process, to say nothing of finding a way to "cure" or prevent it, apparently requires drugs. Drugs = money. Research projects, whether basic or applied, also cost money. Money, a finite resource that must be allocated in some way.

Also, researchers have to "eat and heat." Some marry and raise families. They have parents who fail and need their care; some, in turn, become parents who fail.

Sometimes I picture a lab tech grabbing a sandwich at what should have been the end of her shift but isn't because processing an extra batch of samples each shift means getting results that much earlier...
which lets her lab meet an earlier publication deadline
which helps secure an extra $100K in research funding
which produces results leading to a collaborative project with a drug company
and maybe just maybe it's THIS drug that proves effective.

And because she's a numbers person as well as a people person, the disease statistics--millions of people with the disease, each of whom has family, all of whom are waiting for good news--may haunt that lab tech.

So I hope she thinks of us, when she thinks of us, not as suffering people in need of her pity, nor as impatient family members wishing someone would do something.

Instead, I hope she recognizes we're a giant cheering section, urging her on.