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June 29, 2010 > Stalking a killer - local woman seeks clues

Stalking a killer - local woman seeks clues

Medical mystery shows are very popular these days. The typical format involves a team of investigators who carefully sift through evidence taken from the site of a crime, finding miniscule clues to painstakingly detect a pattern that may lead to a solution. Viewers can be an impatient group so the mystery is usually solved in less than 60 minutes - even with commercial interruptions. In reality, although some methods shown on TV may mimic real crime labs, the time element is disproportionate. Usually, research and collection of accurate evidence is a lengthy and laborious task, involving a wide range of disciplines.

Actors who memorize lines may be well recognized, but those working behind the scenes in research laboratories are the real heroes, adding evidence to fill gaps of medical puzzles and closing in on real killers. Of the many medical villains under scrutiny, Alzheimer's Disease is both widespread and insidious. It robs its victims of self-awareness and personality before annihilation of their body. Often those afflicted are treated to a terrifying intermittent preview of their future world in the shadows of sentience before descending to an existence of declining fundamental functions.

Fortunately, there are people who have the training, stamina and knowledge to engage in the battle for understanding this disease and others like it, ultimately defining a successful strategy for victory over medical monsters such as Alzheimer's. Each new recruit in this war is another reason to hope for a solution that will save lives and defeat a relentless and cruel enemy. A young but determined addition to the ranks of these valiant researchers is a local woman who, following graduation from Mission San Jose High School, recently completed undergraduate studies at University of California, Davis. Simultaneously, while pursuing her undergraduate degree, Mekala Raman has been working with the Alzheimer's Disease Center of Northern California, studying the manifestations of this illness.

Her "data set" compares normal elderly patients, those with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) and others diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease. Mekala based her study on a previous 2006 study at the Center which attempted to connect the pathology of vascular disease dementia and Alzheimer's. They found a significant some similarities but differences as well. Mekala wondered if there were "biomarkers" that would indicate a progression from normal aging or MCI to Alzheimer's Disease. She concentrated her studies on whether the health of the myelin sheath covering nerves in particular parts of the brain is an accurate indicator of Alzheimer's. This led to further observations and comparisons between the size of different parts of the brain for normal subjects, those with MCI and those suffering from Alzheimer's.

Conclusions of research comparing MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scans of "areas specific to Alzheimer's Disease patients" have led Mekala to consider the possibility that different biologic mechanisms operate at various stages of dementia. In a practical sense, this conclusion may lead to earlier detection of or predisposition to develop Alzheimer's Disease.

Mekala's research was accepted for poster presentation at two separate conferences and has been awarded an Honorable Mention in an Alzheimer's Association Young Scientist Award competition. Research by undergraduates, graduates and Post Doctoral researchers is evaluated for this award. Only eight individuals - four Full Award and four Honorable Mentions were recognized. Mekala's research is being evaluated for publication.

She is due to receive a BS Neurobiology, Physiology and Behavior with a minor in History in August after returning from studies in London of Shakespeare's works this summer. Future plans include additional laboratory experience followed by PhD studies.

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