Growing up in Eugene, I chased butterflies and scurrying bugs. I wanted a closer look at their anatomy, behavior and habitat.
My days outdoors convinced me I was on the road to entomology. After all, what little girl can resist a caterpillar crawling up her arm?
Along the way, my interest in science veered toward the human mind, fascinated by its complexity and power, yet also its fragility. The amateur entomologist transitioned to biology, then neurology. I became aware of the toll Alzheimer’s disease was taking.
I realized that prevention or a cure for Alzheimer’s was as elusive as a butterfly with the wind as its ally, as entrenched as any disease I would study. I was drawn to the challenges it presented and the possibilities it offered a young researcher.
From my physician and scientist mentors in New York and southern California, I learned much. I realized I wanted to work with patients and families affected by Alzheimer’s and I became a geriatric neurologist.
Families share burdens, and caregivers are heroes. What a tragedy it is when those afflicted can’t connect with those taking care of them. Specific memories and personalities are unique in humans. When those are taken, we lose something essential to who we are.
Now I find myself needed by families in the Alzheimer’s abyss, and I’m frustrated that I can’t beat this monster we work so hard to topple.
A colleague once told me that even if a clinical study fails, if it was conducted properly it still has value. What we learn in failure helps.
Our collective reaction to failure: What have we learned about the disease? What’s next? To get there, we’ll need clinical trial participants, vital to the cause. Anyone who has an incurable disease should be aware of clinical trial options. They should also know they are contributing to science.
My story took a twist when I returned to Oregon last year, as director of Clinical Care and Therapeutics for the Layton Aging and Alzheimer’s Disease Center at Oregon Health and Science University. I loved my time elsewhere, but I yearned to come home. I missed the trees, and the rain.
When Dr. Jeffrey Kaye, the director of our center, recruited me, I was ready. His groundbreaking and much-admired work in technology that makes ongoing patient measurement more continuous and less intrusive is fascinating. It fired up the science geek inside me.
Now I’m near family and friends, and recently gave birth to my first child, a daughter. I’m connecting with patients and families, and working on clinical trials that excite me, such as a new study we call T2 Protect AD, seeking to slow or stop memory problems in those with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s.
As much as we want prevention, we can’t forget the millions already living with this disease.
For more information on participating in a clinical trial at Oregon Health and Science University, visit ohsu.edu for more details.
(Aimee Pierce, MD, is an associate professor of neurology at Oregon Health and Science University.)