Monday, February 22, 2010

Of Narcolepsy and Immunoglobulin Benders

Swiss researchers have made a heady announcement on narcolepsy and its possible cure:

Professor Mehdi Tafti, co-director of the sleep laboratory at Vaud University Hospital in Lausanne, said that treatment with immunoglobulin, which is commonly used for auto-immune diseases of the nervous system, had shown "extraordinary results."

The sleep disorder disappeared in most of the patients treated soon after first symptoms, the statement added.
While I don't doubt the statement added that claim, I do doubt the truth of the claim. My doubts center on something mentioned elsewhere in the article, that "the antibodies end up destroying the hypocretic neurones" [sic] -- these being the sleep-regulating neurons that roughly 99.5% of the human population don't lose to an autoimmune freakout. The rest of us are narcoleptics, and aren't only dozing off right now because this post is so boring.

I am skeptical because unlike the limbs of sea stars, the heads of a Hydra, or the hopes of "small government" enthusiasts who keep going back to the GOP, hypocretin neurons don't grow back after they're destroyed.

Maybe chugging pitchers of immunoglobulin -- mmm, immunoglobulin -- could help halt narcolepsy in the first formative moments of the autoimmune freakout that apparently causes it, but this would require detecting that moment, whereas every diagnosis of narcolepsy of which I'm aware results from a sleep study, and therefore only after the hypocretic neurons are destroyed, and therefore too late for any feat of immunoglobulin binging, however prodigious.

I would be delighted to be proved wrong on my skepticism or on any substantive point above, but you're going to have to do the legwork -- none of this "you should read the follow-up studies", or "you need to do some additional research on neurological cell types," or "you should read X's work on Y" or "just how many pitchers of immunoglobulin should I chug for a safe dosage?" or so on -- it's taken nearly all the spare energy I have to cobble together even this crappy post. Nap time!

1 comment:

larryniven said...

Unrelated to the original post, but I thought you mind find this interesting:

"I was looking at my 4.5-year-old son, and thinking that he appears to be created by God. And it seemed fairly obvious that my appreciation for him would fall short of how delightful he is if I didn't see him in this way."

What with you having a child and all. (Right? I'm not just making that up?)