Jul 292010

The miles traveled over our first two days seemed to create a special type of gravity which pulls one farther under covers, and into a bed. Luckily this was easy enough to overcome by the thought of this being our final leg towards Los Angeles, and easier still because we would have a fresh pair of legs joining us: those of Harry Johns, the CEO of the Alzheimer’s Association. I looked forward to conversing with him about the state of AD research, care and public policy, and I was not disappointed.

Alzheimer's Breakthrough Ride: Ventura to LA

After we found a stretch of quiet roads a few miles out of Ventura, we got to talk about my research and recent progress in the field. Harry followed along with the ease of a scientist, though he is not one. He shared with me that at the helm of the association, one gets to interact with the best of the best researchers and doctors, and with this immersive exposure he has picked up what seems to be enough knowledge to qualify for an advanced degree. Harry gets such a birds-eye view of the field that it was refreshing to hear his outlook. From the previous two segments I had learned for the first time about the research my fellow riders were working on back at UCLA, I had not yet had any interaction with their research group. That speaks to the breadth of neuroscience research at UCLA even within the Alzheimer’s field, as well as to the narrow focus that each of us falls into in our own work. More than once it struck us that the Breakthrough Ride was benefiting the researchers participating: in addition to driving our message to the public, the ride is helping to create bridges between research groups working toward a common goal.

The ocean breeze and vistas reminded us that we were fortunate to ride along the CA coast into LA, and eventually we came upon familiar territory, reaching sections of the Pacific Coast Highway that we had cycled on during our training rides. Our route took us east at Santa Monica towards Brentwood and Westwood, literally passing in front of my apartment, but onwards we rode towards the signing event we knew was waiting for us in front of the Kodak Theater. We were treated to a scenic ride through Beverly Hills, though we noticed the traffic becoming more congested, and drivers sometimes irritated to have cyclists in their lanes. Though I have been living in LA for almost a year (from the time I began a postdoc at UCLA), we rode through areas I’ve never seen and we had to keep a very close eye on our cue sheet, leading us left and right, left and right, weaving our way to Hollywood and Highland; we needed direction in our own city. Looking back, I’m realizing its not unlike the Alzheimer’s community: we need a map, a route, a plan, as to how we can best attack this disease. A plan for research looking at the disease from many angles, a plan for funding and public policy, and a plan for patient care until we can actually treat this disease. With the passage of the Breakthrough Act, the Alzheimer’s field can have the overarching plan it desperately needs.

We wouldn’t have had such an easy time reaching the Kodak Theater without our directions laid out, and it was all worth it when we did. The crowd who had gathered burst into cheers the moment they saw us turn the corner, and gave us an amazing welcome. I wondered if they really understood what it was like to have been on the bicycle for a total of about 18 hours over the past three days, but each one was so appreciative of our efforts, it didn’t matter. They thanked us for participating in the ride, for bringing attention to the cause, and for the research we do each and every day. For me that was special, because in the lab with our instruments and experiments, it’s easy to lose sight of why we do this. I see proteins not patients in my work, so their “thank you” meant a lot.

-Eric Y. Hayden, Ph.D.
Postdoctoral Scholar, Neurology
David Geffen School of Medicine
University of California at Los Angeles

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