Joe & Sam

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Joe – One of the most unnerving aspects of Alzheimer’s disease is that it is inflicted on us by our own biology. A curse of our own complicated machinery, which gives up through the progression of disease.

A small protein fragment called amyloid beta is central to the cascade of events that lead to the degeneration of the brain seen in Alzheimer’s. These fragments stick to one another to form fibres, which clump together. Some of these clumps build up and reveal themselves through dysfunctional neurological symptoms like memory loss. The severity and type of symptoms shown are reliant on the size and shape of these amyloid beta clumps. More recently shorter versions of amyloid beta have been found at the centre of clumps in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients and seem to clump together faster and cause a higher rate of death in the brain cells.

My research involves analysing how these shorter amyloid beta fragments clump together to better understand their role in the disease. This type of amyloid beta could be at the top of the toxicity hierarchy and if it is then understanding how and why it clumps together could help us develop new drugs to treat Alzheimer’s.

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Sam – From the beginning of this project I have been specifically interested by Joe’s work with electron microscopy.  The electron microscope requires a lot of skill and patience to operate and I identified with this aspect of image making. I found it very humbling to encounter this kind of striking imagery in a lab environment, especially considering that the images serve such a significant purpose in researching how and why amyloid beta builds up in the brain and leads to neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

My piece aims to juxtapose the molecular side of Alzheimer’s, with the more human, psychological effects – primarily its effect on facial recognition and motor skills. I have used Joe’s images of amyloid beta fibres taken with the electron microscope as a graphic device to gradually abstract portraits of myself ageing representing the cumulative effect the protein has on our senses.

The final piece consists of over 200 frames of my father and me stitched together digitally to create a looping animation. I chose to draw each frame by hand to reflect the painstaking process Joe goes through to capture his images, and to be able to portray the impact of amyloid beta over time.