November 10, 2019

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS: Me, “A Pig Tale”, and My Father’s Alzheimer’s – An Unexpected Sygyzy

NOT using the panel discussions of the most recent World Science Fiction Convention in Dublin, Ireland in August 2019 (to which I be unable to go (until I retire from education)), I would jump off, jump on, rail against, and shamelessly agree with the BRIEF DESCRIPTION given in the pdf copy of the Program Guide. But not today. This explanation is reserved for when I dash “off topic”, sometimes reviewing movies, sometimes reviewing books, and other times taking up the spirit of a blog an old friend of mine used to keep called THE RANTING ROOM…

I don't usually write things that can easily be cross posted between my two blogs -- Guys Gotta Talk... and Possibly Irritating Essays (maybe one other?), but it happened this time. The two parts of my life coincided and so here you go...

A study published by the National Institute on Aging, indicates that recent research identified a gene in a huge family that codes for early onset Alzheimer’s. A woman from a family whose “genetic data from a Colombian family with more than 6,000 living members”…found that those “who carry a rare gene mutation called Presenilin 1 (PSEN1) E280A, have a 99.9% risk of developing early-onset Alzheimer's disease.”

While this is one of those “sad-but-true” stories, the woman in question didn’t develop Alzheimer’s symptoms until she was in her seventies. Sad again, and true…BUT…the members of her family who had the odd gene combination without exception developed Alzheimer’s symptoms WHEN THEY WERE IN THEIR FORTIES.

It's a rare condition, and again, sad-but-true; but the research team didn’t let the story lie. They tested her and found that where you and I and all the rest of the humans in her family had a single gene called APOE3 Christchurch (APOE3ch) gene variant she also had two copies of it. She was the only one – and she was the only one who didn’t have early onset.

What does this “magical gene” do? According to the study (gibberish first, then I’ll translate the doctors) “…the APOE3ch variant may reduce the ability of APOE to bind to certain sugars called heparan sulphate proteoglycans (HSPG). APOE binding to HSPG has been implicated as one mechanism that may contribute to the amyloid and tau protein deposits that destroy the brain.”

First, APOE stands for APOlipoprotEin. The “lipo” part means “fat”. That’s the middle of this thing. It is a protein associating with lipid particles, that mainly helps with the transport of fat between organs blood plasma and liquids between cells called “interstitial” (just a fancy word for “the place in between”). It’s a very important component of blood plasma and it’s involved in fat production, conversion and clearance. All food things. The problem comes when APOE accidentally hooks up with sugars called heparan sulphate proteoglycans (HSPG). The research seems to point to this hook up as suddenly stopping the APOE from moving the fats around and instead helping to form plaques and tangle deposits you read about that eventually destroy the brain of an Alzheimer’s patient.

OK – all that is said and done. You maybe understand this line of research better.

At any rate, on to an eerie happening in my own life.

I had a science fiction story published in ANALOG about 20 years ago called, “A Pig Tale”. In it, my main character is experiencing a crisis – but she doesn’t realize that her father is as well.

In a really strange turn of events, I wrote this story long before my father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s; even longer before I found out about it and became the secondary caregiver for both Mom and Dad (they were in an assisted living facility, then moved into Memory Care); I was the contact, transportation, and eventually the one who arranged Dad’s funeral when he died a few years later than Mom, and pretty much a different man than he was before Alzheimer’s began to whittle away the personality that defined him.

So, if you’d like to read the story, the link is below. If not, that’s fine. But I’ve been thinking about doing another story set at the same time; different character (maybe), but take a look at the issue from “the other side”, after making my way through the experience my parents had.

Who knew that the fictional drug in my story was going to be the object of a billion-dollar search.

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