By: Benjamin Stecher
Nothing rallies support for a cause like a bad guy. We come together by the millions when we can direct our frustrations against those who oppress or treat us unlawfully.
I envy such causes, where enemies have faces, and injustice is apparent.
Ours is a much more insidious kind of enemy. A product of our own biology. It may not have a face, but we need to treat it with the same level of urgency as if it did, for it is just as detrimental to our way of life as any tyrant of the past.
So, how do we fight this enemy?
Well, we who are in this struggle have to be courageous, and we have to be clever, but we also have to be united. We cannot be a squabbling mass of individuals complaining about our daily struggle or espousing the latest theory of the day.
We must also, as Sun Tzu warned, know our enemy, for we are forced to fight it on its turf.
Problem is, we aren’t entirely sure what it is we are fighting, or why it harms us and not others. However, it seems whatever the underlying culprit is, its weapon is a deformed protein that has gone rogue, evading and perturbing our defenses, and wreaking havoc throughout cells deep in our brains. It may not have a face, but it does have a shape…
Its name is alpha-synuclein, and in its misfolded state it is a clever little bastard. It assaults at a cunningly slow pace, chipping away at our nervous system years before we ever notice it.
The world it lives in is an unmapped jungle. We know fragments of it, but not nearly enough to make sense of it.
However, lately we have made some rather astonishing advances…
There are many fronts to this war, though our enemy may strike deep in our brains, its effects ripple throughout our bodies, extending out into the world we live, even affecting those nearest us.
On each front we have allies doing what they can, and though they are too often burdened by a society designed to help only when help comes with a return on investment, they continue to make a difference in the lives of millions.
We also have some promising new weapons on the way. Today, in clinical trials around the world, antibodies and vaccines designed to pacify this little demon are being tried. They may not ultimately be the answer we seek, but they will, regardless of outcome, move us closer to it.
While we can derive hope from such news, and appreciate the support we get, we cannot sit around hoping for others to solve this for us. The everyday trials and tribulations of this disease require constant vigilance, there is much work to be done, and all the while we can never neglect our daily dose of exercise, the only proven weapon we have.
None of us chose to be here, but here we are, might as well embrace it.
A final thought that has helped me along the way. Though there may be something going wrong inside you now, an incomprehensible amount of things had to go right just to be able to have this experience of the world in the first place….
(A zebrafish egg cell forms a complex embryo in only a few hours. Video by Fengzhu Xiong and Sean Megason, click here to learn more)