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  • We start in the future.

  • The year is 2034.

  • Alex has just come home.

  • It's his birthday, he turns 61 years old today.

  • He comes home and before he puts his keys into the door to open the door,

  • he remembers something.

  • He lets his arms dangle to his side for a moment.

  • No shaking, no resting tremor.

  • Moves his arms up and down.

  • No rigidity, no signs of Parkinson's disease.

  • He remembers when his mom was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease

  • when she was just 50 years old, much younger than he is today.

  • And he remembers her frustrations with simple tasks

  • like putting the keys in the door or even dressing herself.

  • He also remembers the day

  • that he found out that he, just like his mom,

  • carries a genetic mutation

  • that makes it more likely for him to get the disease.

  • Now, he shakes it off, opens the door, and goes inside

  • and a loud noise of "Surprise!" greets him

  • as his friends and family cheer and celebrate his birthday.

  • His wife hands him a glass of champagne and everyone raises a toast,

  • "To Alex!"

  • He smiles to himself.

  • Another year gone, and no sign of Parkinson's disease.

  • The drugs are working.

  • He secretly raises a toast to the warriors, the champions,

  • who changed his fate.

  • Now, let's rewind, ten years.

  • The year is 2024.

  • The new Parkinson's disease drug has just received FDA approval

  • after showing great promise in clinical trials.

  • Not just in masking the symptoms of the disease, like the previous drugs,

  • but actually stopping the progressive degeneration.

  • This drug is nothing short of a miracle taking less than ten years;

  • usually, the time line of drug development is long, over 15 years,

  • and even then, a very high failure rate.

  • This time, it was much faster.

  • This time, there were tools that predicted interactions and successes

  • and avoided a sea of failed studies and negative data.

  • Alex is still asymptomatic, but brain scans show

  • there's already some degeneration in his brain.

  • He starts treatment immediately to avoid further damage.

  • Let's keep rewinding.

  • The year is 2014.

  • I stand here in front of you,

  • and I tell you about two progressive and debilitating brain diseases:

  • Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease.

  • I tell you that this is what happens to your brain in Alzheimer's disease.

  • And I ask you: what would you do to keep your brain from this fate?

  • How much would you pay

  • to save your most precious memories, your cognition, your identity?

  • What about Parkinson's disease?

  • What would you pay

  • to keep enough motor control, to dress yourself, feed yourself,

  • even go to the bathroom by yourself?

  • And I tell you that as life expectancy grows,

  • we will be faced with a dramatically higher number

  • of both of these diseases with no cure.

  • But there is hope.

  • I tell you that we are warriors,

  • conquerors fighting these inhumane diseases.

  • I tell you of revolutionary advances in the field of neuroscience

  • and that we are on the verge of powerful, new tools like neurostimulation.

  • This tool uses video game technology

  • to create a model of what happens inside an individual neuron or brain cell.

  • It allows us to put together the pieces of the puzzle

  • and make our brains healthier

  • which I think it's an idea worth spreading.

  • Alex is here tonight.

  • He hears this talk and joins the warriors.

  • He decides to live better, learn more,

  • and use his skills set to contribute to research.

  • While we're here already, let's keep rewinding.

  • The year is 2004.

  • Scientists have just discovered a mutation in a gene called LRRK2.

  • This genetic mutation significantly increases

  • a person's likelihood of getting Parkinson's disease.

  • Meanwhile, Alex is with his mom at the hospital,

  • watching as the neurologist performs motor tests

  • and trying to come to grip with his mom's Parkinson's disease,

  • helpless.

  • Neither he nor his mom have any idea

  • that they both carry this newly discovered genetic mutation.

  • 2004 was also the first year

  • that I attended the Society for Neuroscience Meeting.

  • I have just started my research on Parkinson's disease,

  • and I had my first piece of data in hand.

  • I was so excited

  • because I actually found something that no one else knew before.

  • Not like researching on Google.

  • Actually finding something that no one knew.

  • (Laughter)

  • It was like nature had whispered

  • a little secret to me that I could tell the world.

  • It was addictive.

  • And when I went to this meeting,

  • I saw 25,000 other neuroscientists and trainees

  • who were just as giddy and excited about the brain as I was.

  • Each of them unlocking the 'hows' of the brain and the nervous system.

  • How this fantastic system allows us to think,

  • to learn, remember, to feel emotions,

  • even see, hear, and move our bodies.

  • If you had gone there, you would have, no doubt, seen a lot of nerds.

  • And we are quite proudly nerds.

  • But I knew, standing there, at that moment in time,

  • that we are warriors, explorers,

  • we boldly go where no one has gone before.

  • We are people who develop and utilize new tools and techniques

  • so that we can explore the unknown,

  • rethink what we already know,

  • and reshape the fate of future generations.

  • Look at the people next to you.

  • You are one of the six people directly adjacent to you

  • who'll get Alzheimer's disease.

  • And while it looks bleak today, there is a bright future waiting us.

  • But we must be diligent and there's no time to waste.

  • Every single one of you has the skills set,

  • a weapon that can be used in this fight.

  • If you are here,

  • if you are interested in ideas worth spreading,

  • If you are curious enough, motivated enough,

  • and spending your free time listening to TED talks,

  • I have news for you,

  • you are already one of us, you are a warrior.

  • So unsheathe your weapons and stand with us

  • because every action that we take now,

  • will transform the fate of future generations.

  • For people like Alex, for people like you and me.

  • Now, before I tell you my second story, I want to ask you a question:

  • raise your hand if you would want to know if you have one of these genetic mutations

  • that increases your risk for Alzheimer's or Parkinson's diseases.

  • Oh, that's good!

  • Keep on mind there's no cure still.

  • If you raised your hand, it's actually quite inexpensive,

  • only about a hundred dollars and very quick,

  • to get tested for this genetic mutations.

  • If you didn't raise your hand, I guess that's something

  • that we each have to decide for ourselves,

  • but I tend to think that knowledge is always good,

  • that by knowing our genetic risk,

  • we can change our environments and our lifestyle factors.

  • We can contribute to organizations like the Michael J. Fox Foundation

  • for Parkinson's or an Alzheimer's association.

  • You have the power then, to reshape your own future.

  • Now, for my second story.

  • This story is about one tiny little neuron

  • inside the brain of someone with Alzheimer's or Parkinson's disease.

  • You can't see it,

  • it's embedded deep inside the brain and protected by a very thick skull.

  • And contrary to what you may have seen in the movies, on TV, or even in this animation,

  • we don't have any tools to be able to see this type of resolution,

  • individual neurons in the brain.

  • Let alone the molecules inside of these neurons.

  • We can do a couple of things: we can take one of these neurons,

  • stick it in the petri dish and look at it under microscope on the laboratory.

  • It's very cool.

  • We can even tag different types of molecules,

  • and we can see them move and change.

  • But we miss everything else, we only see what we tag.

  • Another thing we can do is we can take these neurons,

  • and we can look at a whole bunch of different things.

  • We can look at the concentrations of molecules inside them,

  • the way they move, where they are located, their interactions.

  • But we can only see it for one point in time

  • because once we take that neuron for analysis, it's dead,

  • we can't use it anymore.

  • This is a huge limitation because the brain doesn't look like this.

  • The neurons are no static, they're incredibly dynamic,

  • moving, changing every millisecond.

  • Now, I know the neuron can be intimidating.

  • I'm now going to show you any pictures.

  • I just want you to imagine with me for a second.

  • I think neurons are so intimidating because they're so tiny.

  • Let's imagine that this tiny little neuron that we're talking about today,

  • the one in the brain of someone with Alzheimer's or Parkinson's disease

  • is actually really big.

  • Let's say it's the size of our city.

  • Neuron is actually a lot like a city.

  • Just like there are different types of people

  • in the city that make it function,

  • there are different types of molecules inside a neuron that make it function.

  • Some give it energy, others transport things back and forth,

  • kind of like a metro system or a railroad system.

  • Others are border patrols controlling what goes in and out of the neuron.

  • And others are neurotransmitters, they go between the neurons

  • and that's how your neurons communicate.

  • Now, that's a normal neuron.

  • But what happens in this particular neuron?

  • It's not normal,

  • it's inside someone's brain with Alzheimer's or Parkinson's disease,

  • it's being damaged.

  • You actually all know the story already,

  • and this is where it gets really interesting.

  • If we go back to our city analogy, this is a city that's under attack.

  • Whether it's Independence Day, or World War Z,

  • what happens when a city is under attack?

  • "Mayday, mayday, we have a problem, we are under attack, do you copy?"

  • All you get from the other side is hiss-hiss.

  • Maybe a couple of broken words here and there.

  • Because chances are other cities are under attack too.

  • That's exactly what we see in our neurons.

  • They stop communicating efficiently with each other.

  • What else happens in a city under attack? Widespread panic.

  • People are running and screaming with their arms up in the air.

  • I know you can picture it. That's exactly what happens in our neuron.

  • In a normal neuron, molecules are somewhat predictable,

  • you know where they might be at a given time

  • or what they might be doing.

  • But when it gets damaged,

  • it's like they were not the same old molecules we use to know,

  • they go places and do things they wouldn't do,

  • and the damage begets more damage.

  • Speaking of damage, that's something else you see in a city under attack:

  • piles of rubble, pieces of broken buildings, cars,

  • dead bodies clumped together.

  • And that's what we see in our neuron too:

  • we see clumps of aggregated, damaged molecules.

  • In Parkinson's disease, we have Lewy bodies,

  • in Alzheimer's disease, we have tangles and plaques.

  • And don't forget that in the midst of all of this crazy chaos,

  • we are trying to figure out what's actually killing the cell.

  • In the movies, it's easy,

  • it's a giant green monster running around - a green villain always seems to be -

  • but in our neuron, it seems to be different.

  • There's no Godzilla.

  • It seems that a variety of different factors contribute.

  • For example, if you work with toxins like pesticides

  • that can increase your risk for Parkinson's disease.

  • Your life style factors:

  • I guess it shouldn't come as a surprise

  • that exercise decreases your risk for both diseases.

  • A Mediterranean diet decreases your risk for Alzheimer's disease.

  • And, of course, genetic variation, like the one that Alex and his mom have.

  • And more, and more of these genetic variations

  • are being discovered every day.

  • But what we're still missing and what we need is a tool to put together

  • these genetic and environmental factors,

  • and explain to us how they affect the neuron.

  • And we need a tool that is just as dynamic and changeable as the neuron is,

  • and we need this tool now

  • because so far, in this story, the story of the neuron in the brain

  • of someone with Alzheimer's or Parkinson's disease,

  • there are no survivors.

  • The neurons stop communicating with each other, retract their processes,

  • shrivel up and die.

  • Our cities, wiped out.

  • I don't know about you, but I hate this story.

  • I like the stories where the good guys win at the end.

  • That is why our team is working on computer simulations