In biology and biochemistry courses one takes, we learn about pathways, mechanisms, and reactions. Sometimes it can all seem disjointed; this stuff happens in our bodies, but it isn’t like we can see the processes. Most of the time, it’s only when things go wrong that we really start to pay attention to what’s the molecular happenings. Studying diseases is one way that we can connect the pathways, mechanisms, or reactions to our lives. To understand what’s wrong, we can bring in what we’ve learned in our courses and apply it to a real-world situation. Of the many diseases that are out there, these are a few that hold particular interest to me.
- Lewy bodies dementia (LBD) is a disease with symptoms similar to those of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, which results in it often being misdiagnosed. In LBD, abnormal protein deposits of alpha-synuclein build up in the parts of the brain that control behavior, cognition and movement (1). The deposits affect chemical signaling in the brain, which leads to symptoms that include issues with memory, thinking, and changes in behavior (2). In a healthy brain, alpha-synuclein is present in the synapses where it’s involved in cell-cell communication. In individuals with LBD, the protein forms clumps in neurons, inhibiting their proper function (1).
- Gliomas are primary tumors of the brain. Gliomas are given grades from 2 to 4, with 4 being the most malignant. Glioblastoma, also called glioblastoma multiform, is a grade 4 tumor and the most common type of brain cancer (3). The cancer is defined as “rare”, having an incidence of 3 to 5 in 100,000. However, among brain tumors, it is the most common and most aggressive form (4). The current prognosis is low with the median life expectancy after diagnosis 14 to 15 months and the two year and five year survival rate 30% and 10% respectively (4).
- Diabetes affects roughly 30.3 million people in the United States with the most common types being 1 and 2 (5). In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas does not produce enough insulin (little to none) and in type 2, the body doesn’t use insulin correctly. Since insulin is required for transport of glucose into cells, this leads to glucose being left in the blood.