The Neurobiology block of our course Frontiers in Translational Medicine (Semester 1st of Master’s in Biomedicine) started almost two weeks ago and so did the snow (Yes, in the beginning of November – No, this is not a common thing for this time of the year). There were 2 days when it was practically impossible to reach the lecture hall, due to major disruptions caused by the heavy snowstorms. These 2 days were maybe the best of the programme so far and I would walk the 2.5 kilometers from Sankt Eriksplan to the Karolinska University Hospital, amidst the snow and ice, any day of the week to attend them. Because these 2 lectures were unique and inspirational.
Almost all of us choosing this Master’s are studying to become researchers; when reading about the underlying mechanisms of a disease and the effectiveness of a potential drug component, it is easy to focus on the forest and forget about the tree, the individuals – the patients. For the first time in my studies, I got to see real patients and listen to their part of the story, thanks to Professor Dr. Fredrik Piehl, who kindly asked them to assist him in teaching us about neurodegenerative diseases.
On the first day, a male individual suffering from Myasthenia Gravis (MG), a long term neuromuscular disease that leads to muscle weakness, came to the class. The most commonly affected muscles are those of the eyes, face, and swallowing. Consequently, MG can lead to double vision, “drooping” eyelids, trouble talking, and trouble walking. The inspirational patient was a “typical case” of MG, with sudden onset of the disease. He talked about his journey and the different stages of the disease and treatments he received (picture to the left). Finally, Professor Piehl asked the patient to demonstrate how a typical physiological exam for the course of the disease would be. At the picture to the right, the doctor checks if the eyelids will drop after following the movement of the hand, due to muscle fatigue.
On day 2, we had yet another visit by a young male who had been affected my Multiple Sclerosis (MS). MS is a demyelinating disease – the insulating covers of nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord are damaged. This disrupts the ability of parts of the nervous system to communicate, resulting in a range of signs and symptoms, such as double vision, blindness in one eye, muscle weakness, trouble with sensation, or trouble with coordination. Once again, the patient talked about his unique journey towards a better quality of life, following the treatment course of his physician. We observed the different tests a doctor performs to assess the progression of MS, too. On the left, the patient tries to balance his body standing with his eyes closed and on the right he is asked to assess how well he can sense the vibration on his fingers, on both sides.
These might all seem like everyday activities to the most of us, but it is easy to take them for granted. For the patient with MG, talking for as long as one hour would seem impossible prior to treatment, due to fast tongue muscle fatigue, as well as performing well on the physical examinations in general. Additionally, standing and walking is a miracle for the patient with MS, since he, as he said, was paralyzed on a hospital bed for several months, before receiving the right treatment for him.
From molecule to patient, this is what Karolinska Institutet is all about – and I am glad to be part of such a special institute and programme. If you are interested in Neurobiology the Master’s in Biomedicine might be the programme for you!
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P.S. I was inspired from the stories of the patients and from the way Professor Piehl handled them with care to write this piece. I hope I did it justice. Special thanks to Professor Dr Piehl and the patients for the permission to share this content with you.
Featured image by: GreenFlames09 | Brain (CC)