A recent study showed that common inhaled anesthetics can speed up the formation of brain plaques, which are webs of fibrous proteins associated with conditions like Alzheimer's Disease and dementia. The protein, amyloid beta, is also a notorious troublemaker elsewhere in the body, originally described in the study of diabetes. The study showed that inhaling gas such as halothane or isoflurane can indeed increase the presence of brain plaques, which are known to be directly correlated with an increase in Alzheimer's symptoms. Interesting stuff.
These data come on the heels of another interesting story about Alzheimer's, rather that the amyloid beta proteins might have prion-like behavior.
Scientists have been able to induce brain disease in mice by injecting extracts of the brains of people who died of Alzheimer's disease, a finding that suggests that Alzheimer's has some characteristics of prion brain disorders such as mad cow disease and chronic wasting disease.
The scientist's reaction seems almost perverse taken out of context:
"It's fabulous work," said Sam Gandy, an Alzheimer's researcher and director of the Farber Institute for Neurosciences at Thomas Jefferson University. "This is the first time a brain of a human with Alzheimer's has been used to provoke pathology in another being."
You can almost see him steepling his fingers and laughing maniacally, no? Did you ever imagine your brain as a disease vector?
It's not all gloom and doom, however, there are strides being made towards actual therapeutics.
Alzheimer's is a condition that strikes fear into most people the way a heart attack or even cancer can't. Alzheimer's breaks down the frontal cortex of the brain, starting with destroying short term memory, then later it breaks down the longer term memory and can spiral towards a complete collapse of being able to perform the most simple of tasks, right down to feeding one's self. It feels like an unraveling of one's humanity thread by thread. I think that drawn-out reduction to non-existence is a pretty paralyzing thought.
Still, one must keep an open mind on the subject of losing one's mind. I know that while the self-destruction of the body is agonizing for family members, it likely is fairly painless for the person. By the time the disease claims the life, the person is in essence, oblivious of one's own passing. There are worse deaths out there.
In any event, I wouldn't put off any necessary surgery based on these findings. Just make sure you do your crossword puzzle while you're on the treadmill, and I'm pretty sure it all comes out even, right?