Another broken glass. It has become a recurring pattern in Eveline’s life. Everyday she came back home the cutting sound wounded her ears, because it was not only glass which was being shuttered.
Steve was in the kitchen, his gaze fixed into space. His right hand was rhythmically strumming the table; left was still open, grabbing only at the shadow of the glass.
Eveline entered the room, smiling to her grandfather. “Hello!” she said, “how are you doing?” Steve answered with his peculiar voice, so low that it seemed he was speaking from a cavern. “I’m really good my darling, just destroyed another glass. The normal routine, as you know.” “It’s ok grandpa”, she replied, “we have loads of them”.
Eveline knew everything about the Parkinson’s that was engulfing her beloved grandfather. Her lab was working on this disease, trying to put a ray of light on the shadow that was still wrapping the subject. The door’s bell rang, her mother was coming up the stairs.
Lucia came into the kitchen where Eveline was still clearing up the cradles of the glass; she watched the floor, watched Eveline and then tilted her head. “Nothing new today”, she said. “Yeah, business as usual”, Eveline answered.
They had dinner together and then Steve retired quite early, helped to his room by Lucia. When she went back to the kitchen, she sat down and grabbed a green apple from the fruit bowl. Eveline was lost in her trains of thoughts.
“Your grandfather will destroy all the glasses in the house. It’s getting worse and worse. It seems the treatment is not really effective anymore.” “Yes mom”, Eveline said, “Parkinson’s is a degenerative disease which affect both movements and memory. It is already good that grandpa can still remember and can move, although the precision of small movements is gone because of the tremor.”
“Still, I don’t understand how he got it”, Lucia said.
“Unfortunately, we still don’t know all the facts about how this disease arises”, Eveline replied, “ but we have several theories. What seems to be widely accepted is that it involves the role of dopamine, one of the molecule that the brain uses to transmit information between neurons. The dopamine is released with a very controlled pattern and the disruption of it seems to be one of the disease’s cause. One of the strategies used to dampen the effects of the disease is to replace the missing dopamine with a precursor, called Levo-Dopa, which the neurons are able to transform into dopamine. This helps to reestablish the quantity of dopamine, but it’s not enough, because the quantity has to follow a very precise timing. There are two types of release of dopamine, one tonic and one phasic. The tonic one acts like a baseline and it is constantly present; the phasic instead follows a wave pattern, so it varies over time.”
“You can think of the level of dopamine as the level of the water at the seaside. The level of the water varies between low and high tide, however there is always a point where you can reach the water. The level of the water at low tide is the basal level of the dopamine in the brain and it depends on the tonic release. The tide instead represents the phasic release which change the level of the dopamine with a specific temporal pattern.”
“Using Levo-Dopa we are able to mimic the tonic release, but not the phasic ones. That’s why the treatment doesn’t really cure the disease but it is good enough to prevent it to get worse and worse for a while. I hope we haven’t reach the point where the treatment is not useful anymore.”
Lucia was looking at Eveline with her deep brown eyes. The child, who used to sit on her lap, has become a young passionate scientist, working to find solutions for the disease which was affecting her grandfather, with the ultimate goal of helping people to live better and longer lives.
She stood up and kissed Eveline on the forehead. She was as proud of her as any mother could possibly be of her child. “You’re a good girl and you will do a really good job”. Eveline looked into her mom’s eyes and said “Thanks mom, I hope so”.
The next morning Eveline went to the lab full of enthusiasm and ready to tackle the challenge. The day passed by quickly within a blur of pipettes, reagents and experiments.
She got back in the evening at the usual time. When she entered the house she saw her brother John speaking with Steve. He was asking where the broom was, but Steve didn’t remember. On the ground there was another broken glass.