Saving Memories Together: Part One

Published: Nov. 21, 2018 at 7:03 PM EST
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Imagine going to work each day with a goal in mind, but that goal remains out of reach.

That's what scientists and researchers do every day at Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor.

Cancer. Diabetes. Alzheimer's. There's no cure for the countless number of people who are diagnosed.

When it comes to Alzheimer's disease, there aren't even any treatments to help those who have it.

It's an illness that not only robs the brain of its memories, but it also gives loved ones a front row seat to the devastating effects.

While patients and family struggle every day, there are people who are painstakingly working to find a solution.

"That's one of the really compelling things as an Alzheimer's researcher. We really have nothing to do for them. We don't have any effective treatments or early prevention strategies, so that's unacceptable."

Amy Dunn has devoted her career to finding an answer that no one has found yet. A cure for Alzheimer's.

"What I'm really interested in is how a person's genetics determine how they will respond to environmental risk factors for Alzheimer's disease. So, I do a lot of research in the lab and data analysis and writing papers, writing grants."

At the age of 29, after studying at the University of Maine and Emory University in Georgia, the Skowhegan native found her way to the Jackson Lab in Bar Harbor.

"We work with a mouse population that is genetically diverse like a human population is, and we give them cognitive tests to measure throughout their life span how well their memory is."

"Here we have pictures of mouse brains and what we have stained here in brown are plaques."

"One of the main breakthroughs that we've had in the past year is we have identified some new genetic variants that we think are involved in determining a persons risk for Alzheimer's disease."

It's a daunting pursuit, and it's one that's driven by personal motivation for Amy.

"My grandfather had Alzheimer's disease, and I was younger and seeing him go from a strong, funny person to not really being able to, you know, needing help with everything every day, That was, you know, kind of, it sticks with you as a little kid, you know, not really understanding why that was happening really motivated me to go into neuroscience research."

Thanks to the Alzheimer's Association and those who donate to them, Amy can keep working to help people like her grandfather.

"My research is funded by the Alzheimer's Association in part through a fellowship, and, you know, that's really important in propelling research forward."

"They're really trying to understand how things work and then translate that into something that is applicable to a treatment or a cure," says Katie Luce.

While Amy continues her research, Luce works to keep that research going as the community events manager for the Alzheimer's Association.

"The bulk of the money that we raise goes to care, support and research."

Like Amy, Katie also has personal motivation. Her grandmother is in the early stages of Alzheimer's. It's something her husband also felt personally.

"His grandfather had passed away from Alzheimer's. And so, his mom and I really sort of struck up a friendship over that."

Her mother in law, Nancy Luce volunteers hours of her time to raise money through the association's Walk to End Alzhemier's in honor of her father, Gene Bolduc.

It's a bond Katie also formed with her husband's sister, Amy.

"She's always going to these amazing conferences where all of these big discussions are happening, and she brings it back and she puts it to work," she says.

Katie's brother's girlfriend also works at the jackson Laborartory on developing new mouse models for Alzheimer's

"I really like how so many women in my extended family have taken it upon themselves to approach helping Alzheimer's in so many different ways. You know, it feels like we're kind of, you know, and or me trying to fight Alzheimer's disease," says Dunn.