Our brains are structured so smells conjure vivid memories. For me, though, a change in light evokes recollections as much as a scent. The clear and soft sunlight waking up the daffodils in spring. The doomsday orange haze over the Okanogan valley during last summer’s wildfires. The pearlescent moonlight and stars over Priest Lake on a camping trip. My anxiety when I saw police car lights behind me after I drove a little too fast near Tacoma. The red glow of the Bryan Hall clock as I walked past it a hundred times with friends.
These memories come into even greater contrast when considering how one in 20 people over age 65 lose their own valued memories to Alzheimer’s disease. As a Daily Telegraph columnist wrote about Iris Murdoch, whose impressive mental capacity fractured in a battle with Alzheimer’s: “Like all other sufferers, the intellectual light of the Dublin-born novelist and philosopher was extinguished bit by bit, until she became bewildered and unable to think, reason or even remember her literary triumphs.” It’s heartening to know a young biochemist and startup CEO, Leen Kawas ’11 PhD, strives to bring to market an astounding drug developed at WSU that could treat the neurodegenerative disease.
Light itself could even transform how neurosurgeons perform a brain procedure for not just Alzheimer’s, but also Parkinson’s disease, depression, and the treatment of pain. Thanks to research by WSU physicist Mark Kuzyk, an almost-unbelievable miniscule fiber, shaped and bent by light pulses, can target problems with less chance of damaging healthy areas of the brain. Kuzyk’s contribution in improving deep brain stimulation could potentially help thousands of patients undergoing the procedure.
Kuzyk and Kawas certainly offer some hope that people with Alzheimer’s disease might have a brighter future and retain their memories of spring.