Christian Long

Gregory Petsko: The Coming Neurological Epidemic

In TED Talks on April 12, 2010 at 11:10 am

Reflection by MIKE N.

Original TED page w/ speaker bio, links, comments, etc:

Gregory Petsko:  The Coming Neurological Epidemic

Gregory Petsko’s talk on the coming neurological epidemic at TED2008, I believe, is an embodiment of the true ’spirit’ of TED, and this is why:

Petsko starts off by explaining that the percentage of the world’s population that is above the age of 65 is growing rapidly, and that by 2050 the distribution of ages will ‘flatten out’ – there will be the same percentage of older people as young people. He even says that there will be a greater percentage of older people than young people. At first, this seems like it would be a good thing. Petsko goes on to explain, however, that once people are above the age of 65, their risk for getting neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s increases exponentially. By 2050, he says, there will be about 32 million people in the United States over the age of 80, and over half of them will have Alzheimer’s Disease, and another three million will have Parkinson’s. That is, unless we do something about it.

Alzheimer’s Disease starts when a protein in the body mis-folds into a sort of “demented origami.” To attempt to correct this, Petsko and his colleagues are working on a drug that will act as a sort of “molecular Scotch tape,” which will hold the protein in the proper shape. Other neurological diseases, which affect very different parts of the brain, also show signs of proteins being mis-folded. This is what amazes me – this one drug could be the answer to many of the neurological diseases we face today. Another curious bit of information is that people with neurological diseases have a very low incidence of cancer. If we could figure out what that connection is, and in conjunction with this new drug, we may be able to prevent or even cure many of the cancers and neurological diseases that we now have no way of treating.

And here’s why I believe that this talk is a great example of what TED is meant to be:

Gregory Petsko did not come on stage to publicize a product, or even make himself more well-known.

He gave this talk simply to raise awareness – to spread an idea. Because people now know that this is happening, they can start researching and looking for ways to find a solution to the upcoming neurological epidemic – all because Gregory Petsko took less than four minutes to tell them about it.


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