Monday, April 16, 2012

DEEP BLUE SEA: Alzheimer's Disease 2

For an excellent overview of Alzheimer's disease visit the Alzheimer's Association. Practically everything I talk about here can be found at their site or through their links, or via Merck online.

A brain scan of the super brain of a super shark.

Oh yes! That crazy b---- Dr. McCallister was trying to cure that crazy b---- of a disease, Alzheimer's, by genetically engineering sharks so that they grow larger brains (which makes them intelligent as a "side effect") and thereby making it easier to harvest some unnamed shark brain protein. By bathing "inactive" human brain cells with shark brain protein, they will "reactivate" and voila! Dr. McCallister will "end all that suffering with a single pill." I laughed so hard I scared the cats.

First of all, I don't know how brain cells are "inactive" unless they're dead. So if you reactivate inactive brain cells, does that mean the patient becomes a zombie? Are their clinical tests to determine normal zombie behavior as opposed to the impaired cognition, memory, and altered behaviors of zombies with Alzheimer's?

OMG! I just googled "zombies Alzheimer's" and look what I got! This guy's got imagination!
Hunter S. Zombie's blog links the zombie virus and Alzheimer's disease.

The brain cells in a patient affected by Alzheimer's are not inactivated, but weakened and ultimately destroyed. What causes this brain cell death? Protein! (Thunderclap!) Yes, I am being silly because practically every single structure in your body (cell walls, etc.) are made of proteins. Proteins are your friends, proteins are your enemies. The same goes for shark proteins, perhaps. They can be fickle.

Beta-amyloid plaques cluster around brain cells.

Two different proteins play a role in Alzheimer's disease. Beta-amyloid fragments (from a larger protein of brain cells) start to form plagues (outside the cells) that essentially clog up the synapses between neurons, trigger inflammatory reactions, and lead to cell death, hence McCallister's inactivation. 

A brain cell (top) has tracts made from microtubules (below left),
which lose integrity when tau proteins clump (below right.)

Tau proteins help form tracts (neurofibrillary for you trivia buffs) that transport substances along the branches of the nerve cell. In Alzheimer's the tau structure is abnormal, leading to the tangling of these proteins and destruction of the tracts. The cell can no longer transport nutrients the way it should and will weaken and die.

Russell Franklin (Samuel L. Jackson) won't live long
enough to suffer from Alzheimer's.

The cells our intrepid scientists are experimenting with are imaged as pyramidal cells, which are indeed the cells they should be studying. The only glitch is that these cells seem to have been stained to make them easier to see with a microscope, and they appear pretty healthy, not "inactivated" by Alzheimer's.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

DEEP BLUE SEA: What is Alzheimer's disease?

Deep Blue Sea: the shark's not quite that big.
I have wanted to blog about this film for a long time. Finally I will get this mother of a medical conundrum off my To Do list! Unfortunately most of the events in this film that make me love it have nothing to do with medicine or body sciences. Although, there is a particularly hilarious laugh-out-loud reference to hemorrhaging that will be discussed in a later post. And sure, when Russell Franklin (Samuel L. Jackson) gets chomped we could say the moment is about the body, but you know what I mean.   

What has driven our mad scientist Dr. Susan McCallister (Saffron Burrows) to create a bunch of shark monsters? One of the Four Spectres Of Old Age(1) - Alzheimer's Disease - that's what!

"We are this close to the reactivation of the human brain cell!"
Her father may have had Alzheimer's but Dr. McCallister is CRAZY!

WHAT A B----!
Dr. McCallister has secretly genetically engineered a race of intelligent super-sharks all for love of her father. Here's what she says to Russell Franklin:

"Have you ever known anyone with Alzheimer's?...By the end all (my father) could do was ask why my mother wasn't home. And each time I told him she was dead I had to watch him take that loss like a car wreck!"

This doctor dragged her father through emotional upheaval again and again because he suffered from an organic brain disease. What a nasty thing to do to someone! Advanced Alzheimer's patients have profound memory loss and its likely that her father forgot his grief after each re-experience of it, but c'mon! My father has advanced dementia and my mother is dead and there's NO WAY I'm going to wrench my dad's heart out on a regular schedule. That's just mean! 

Janice Higgins (Jaqueline McKenzie) tells us that sharks never
experience loss of mental function with advanced age.
Is that true? How old does a shark get, anyway?

Oh, yeah... Alzheimer's disease! What is it? Alzheimer's is a degenerative progressive brain disease causing dementia, and emotional and behavioral changes. The disease usually appears in older persons (65 and up) but there is a small percentage of people who develop the disease earlier in life. At this point there is no cure for it, but there are treatments to lessen symptoms to some degree. There are also things a patient and their friends and family can do to cope with the progressive loss of function that occurs. I speak from experience here, not just from reading the Merck Manual. If you have experience with Alzheimer's you know it's a B----!

I say this from experience too - you don't break your father's heart every time he asks about your dead mother and you don't go breeding a bunch of man-eating-super-sharks because you're feeling guilty about your father's disease!

How does Alzheimer's effect the brain (of humans, not sharks)? How can we use monster sharks to cure this disease? Stay tuned...

1. I made up that "Four Spectres Of Old Age" phrase, but I imagine them to be cancer, Parkinson's disease, osteoporosis, and Alzheimer's disease.

Monday, April 2, 2012


Sorry gang. Many of the movies I've been watching lately have been a bit samey and uninspiring regarding any interesting medical context, which is to say NONE. I am sure this will change soon! 

One of my gag cartoons from a performance series called Pathology Laffs!

While not blogging here I've been busy. I finished grad school at Goddard College! Cower in awe before the mighty MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts! Guess what my focus of study was? Yup! The intersection of body sciences with creative practice. This blog was one of my projects, as a matter of fact(1). 

Also, my cartoonist husband, R. Sikoryak, and I have been guest teachers at the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, VT this school year. AND I am writing and drawing a minicomic. I can't help it - EVERYONE is a cartoonist in this town! It will come out this month.

What does the rest of my life have to do with this blog? I've been distracted from The Cinematologist because I'm putting together a blog-serving-as-website documenting what I'm doing when I'm not writing about movies. If you're into body-science-themed cartooning, performance, or needlework (you heard me - needlework) you might want to check it out. You'll see I've been busy(2)...


A cross stitch of my friend Lisa's fetus.
He's even cuter as a baby!

KriotaWelt is still being built. If you didn't see that particular thing that I did that you want to see, I'll get it up there eventually.

1. The academic writing I did about this blog didn't allow for many exclamation points or slang! Sheesh!
2. I went to France, too!