Final Project: Mechanisms Behind Alzheimer’s Disease


I created a website as my final project focusing on the mechanisms of Alzheimer’s disease, specifically describing the stages of AD as well as describing how neurons and synaptic transmission is affected by the disease. I was interested in this project since I spent a whole school year researching how environmental factors may influence the development of Alzheimer’s disease, but I decided to focus more on the neural aspect in this project based on the information I learned in this course, which will prepare me for my internship during the 2016-2017 school year. I also wanted to raise awareness for Alzheimer’s disease, which is why I incorporated many visuals which compliment the information, as well as videos that further explain the topic I discuss on the page. I chose a website since it is easily accessible as well as interactive. Everything is laid out in a neat and organized manner, making the information easy to understand, even though it is neuroscience.

Citations (which are also on the sources tab on my website):

My Original Post:


Part I: Jerrod and Jump

  • Why is there electrical activity in the brain? Describe how it is used by neurons.

Electrical activity is used in the brain in order to fire electrical impulses to communicate with each other. Neurons use electrical signaling to receive and send information. When a neuron is stimulated, an action potential is fired, which enables the message signals to travel rapidly down the axon terminal.

  • What happens in the brain during a seizure?

A seizure first occurs when there is a disruption in the pattern of the electrical communication system in the brain. This causes neurons to fire off action potentials simultaneously at an extremely accelerated pace. The brain cannot properly compute these ‘mixed messages’, thus a seizure takes place.

  • What is epilepsy? How is it diagnosed?

Epilepsy is a brain disorder in which a person has recurring seizures. Doctors use brain scans, such as an EEG, in order to diagnose epilepsy.

The procedures for conducted an EEG is to attach small electrodes onto the scalp of the patient, which record the electrical activity in the brain, as the actual EEG machine records that information as a series of squiggles, traces. The procedure for an MRI scan is first to remove all metallic objects, then lie in a motorized bed that moves inside of the scanner, in this case you would enter head. A computer is used to operate the MRI scanner by a radiographer in a different room. While in the MRI scanner, you must keep still throughout the entire duration of the scan to receive the most accurate results.

  • What are some possible causes of seizures other than epilepsy?

A cause of Organic non-epileptic seizures (NES) includes a physical cause such as diabetes. Causes of Psychogenic NES include response to frightening or stressful situation (major accidents, psychological stress, abuse, etc). Other plausible causes include drug use, brain injury, withdrawal, stroke, and poison.

  • Based on the information in the case, what type of seizures does Jerrod appear to be having?

Based on the information in this case, I believe Jerrod exhibits the symptoms of having an Absence Seizure since he during his seizures he ” stared blankly, moving his head slightly back and forth, and for a minute or two could not respond to his parents. When the seizures ended, Jerrod had no memory of them”. Absence Seizures cause lapses in awareness, such as staring as well as not remember the occurrence of the seizure. Moreover, I would specifically diagnose Jerrod with Complex Absence Seizures since he makes an involuntary movement, shaking his head back and forth, during the seizure. Furthermore, Absence Seizures are most common in children.

  • What should you do during a seizure to help Jerrod?

During an Absence Seizure, you should make sure that his body is not in harm’s way. This could be done by placing him on a couch and blocking it off so that he does not fall off.

  • What are some treatments for epilepsy? 

Treatments for epilepsy include medication, surgery (to remove a portion of the brain or implant devices such as a vagus nerve stimulation- VNS), and a ketogenic diet, which is a high fat, low carbohydrates died used frequently for children who did not respond to medical therapy.

Part II: A Difficult Decision

  • What is Rasmussen Syndrome (what are its history, symptoms, prognosis, etc.)?

Rasmussen Syndrome is associated with progressive neurological issues and seizures in children. Rasmussen’s Syndrome can become present from 14 months old to 14 years old. Symptoms include seizures, mild weakness in the arm or leg, deteriorating thinking/memory (hemiparesis) or language problems (aphasia). The prognosis of the disease is quite limited since seizure medications do not have much of an effect, anti-inflammatory steroids need more studies to prove their effectiveness. Immunologic therapies (globulin, gamma, rixtuximab, or plasmapheresis). In most cases, the surgical procedure called functional hemispherectomy is used for children in which one cerebral hemisphere is removed from the brain.

  • How did the doctors use EEG and MRI to help diagnose the disorder?

Doctors use EEGs to help diagnose Rasmussen Syndrome by tracking the electrical activities. The EEG then shows which area of the brain demonstrates seizing activity, which can be used to show that there, are partial seizures, which in turn prove that the child has Rasmussen Syndrome. An MRI can be used by doctors to help diagnose the disorder so observe the abnormalities it the brain due to the seizures. Where there is more damage on a certain side of the brain, the doctor could infer, with further testing, that the patient presents symptoms of Rasmussen Syndrome.

  • What structures or abilities of the brain are concentrated in the areas of the left hemisphere that would be removed in the hemispherectomy?

Abilities of the brain that are in the left hemisphere of the brain that would be removed in the hemispherectomy would be analytic thought, logic, language, reasoning, and science and mathematics skills.

  • Other than reducing his seizures, how else might Jerrod’s thinking or behavior be affected by losing these parts of his brain?

Other than reducing Jerrod’s seizures, his behaviors and thinking patterns would be slower compared to other children his age since the left hemisphere of the brain, which is associated with logic, reasoning, and language would be removed during the hemispherectomy.

  • What types of abilities would he still retain, because the brain structures would remain intact?

The abilities Jerrod would retain would be his senses: sight, taste, smell, touch, and hearing; art awareness and creativity; musical awareness; and imagination.

  • What might the family do to help Jerrod recover after such a surgery?

After Jerrod’s surgery, his family should support through his recovery by aiding him with his necessities as well as sending him to the doctor’s to check on his status as well as attend therapy, possibly for speech if it is impaired.

If Jerrod had the surgery, would his level of functioning get better, worse, or stay the same over time?

If Jerrod had the surgery, the abilities, such as language and reasoning, found in the left hemisphere of the brain would decrease since that portion of the brain would be removed. However, it is possible that after therapy, his level of functioning could improve.

  • What other kinds of questions would you have about the surgery? Can you find the answers?

Question: How soon do other neurological issues and weaknesses in the patient occur?

Answer: Weaknesses on one side of the body and intellectual dysfunction often begin 1 to 3 years after the start of the seizures.


  • What decision do you recommend to the family? Why or why not go ahead with surgery?

I would recommend the family to go through with the surgery since it is the best treatment option for Rasmussen Syndrome. If there were no treatment, then Jerrod’s left hemisphere of the brain would just become more inflamed and deteriorate, causing more seizures and more irreversible damage in the brain. The surgery could help improve his situation, whereas there is no room for improvement without treatment.

Official Original Post:


The Ultimate BRAIN CHIP


My new piece of technology is called a BRAIN CHIP, which has the ability to measure activity in the brain as well as remove genes that are thought to be associated with neurological disorders and input ‘healthy’ ones instead. The purpose of this chip would be to discover more about how the brain works from the molecular level since it would be able to comprehend all of the synaptic transmissions occurring in the brain by deciphering where the ‘messages’ go to and why. This BRAIN CHIP would also help neuroscientists discover how neurological diseases develop and even how to cure them by testing removing certain genes and replacing them with the same unaffected gene by plugging in the chip into a slot on the computer.

The BRAIN CHIP would be implemented by plugging it into a special slot in your head, so that it can interact with the brain. The BRAIN CHIP would also be completely wireless, which is good since you do not want a tail sticking out of your head! There would be a need for a brain new software in order to display the findings of the BRAIN CHIP, once it is developed, it can be used for any species.

There would be several medical advances due to the creation of the BRAIN CHIP, such as the cure to Alzheimer’s disease, Down syndrome, schizophrenia, etc. For instance, the gene known for the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, APOE, specifically the variation of the gene: e4, could be removed from the brain simply and efficiently with the BRAIN CHIP. First, the BRAIN CHIP would have to be removed from the patient, then plugged into the Super Computer of the future with the database to encode the information of the BRAIN CHIP. Then the gene could be removed by searching for it through the genes present in that specific BRAIN CHIP, then “undownloading” the gene, which would take from 30 minutes to 24 hours, depending on the gene. Once the gene is removed, the BRAIN CHIP would be plugged back into the patient, and then await the results. If somehow the removal of that gene did not work, then that would be a key to neuroscientists that something else is wrong and could continue their research on animal specimen to find a cure. The BRAIN CHIP also has the ability to track all synaptic transmissions, which would give neuroscientists an insight on how the brain functions and how each part of the brain works together. Furthermore, the use of a BRAIN CHIP, would remove the need for neurosurgery as well as brain implants since the problem could be addressed by plugging it into a computer.

The Super Computer I mentioned in this post would be necessary to the completion and decoding of the information on the BRAIN CHIP. I believe it would take about 20-30 years for the completion of the Super Computer, or possibly a shorter amount of time due to the recent rapid development of technology. On the other hand, I estimate that the BRAIN CHIP would be fully functioning and developed in 40-60 years, since it would take time to understand the workings of the Super Computer, as well as input every possible gene into it for the BRAIN CHIP to recognize.

Official Brown University Link:


  • A link to the treatment, or pseudoscientific claim

  • A summary of the alleged evidence supporting such claim

The article discusses how blueberries are ‘able’ to cure Alzheimer’s disease since it is known as a superfruit, which has the ability to ‘neurtralize radicals’. One of their ‘credible sources’, FitDay, proclaims that “blueberries are also thought to reverse short-term memory loss, and their antioxidants can improve motor skills”. The article also claims that blueberries can protect against cancer and chronic heart disease. The other half of the article focuses on how turmeric powder is also an “Alzheimer’s-fighting superfood”, which is demonstrated by their credible source – themselves. A study in an Indian journal named Ayu stated that the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) was up five points after one year of treatment, supposing by the turmeric. The article then concludes that “the benefits of natural treatments for Alzheimer’s are undeniable, and these studies show that we should always look to Mother Nature as well as modern medicine when treating disease”.

  • A summary of the signs of quackery present in the piece

There are many signs of quackery present in this article. Firstly, the sources that the author cited within the article are from other articles written on the same website. When I found this article, it was advertised with the claim of “DEMOCRATS DO NOT WANT YOU TO KNOW THIS”, which is a big red flag, making this pseudoscience. Another sign of quackery in this piece is that it only speaks about blueberries and it’s so-called relation to Alzheimer’s disease for less than a paragraph, it instead focused on how blueberries is a miracle cure to chronic heart disease and cancer. The article also switched to an irrelevant topic about how turmeric powder can also cure Alzheimer’s disease. However, all of the so-called doctors, such as “Robert Krikorian, PhD” is not even cited properly to an article where he ‘said’ that blueberries help cognitive function. Furthermore, the ‘studies’ that they used as evidence in the article are not cited either, not within the article or in their source list. I was also surprised to see an actual journal in the source list; however, it had nothing to do with the article whatsoever. This list could go on, but I believe the biggest piece of quackery would be that there were no real scientific processes involved to prove any of their claims, even though it is repeated throughout the article that “many studies show”, with no real evidence nor citations at all.

  • Any scientific evidence debunking it

There has not been much research on this, since it is somewhat of an unordinary claim. However, the doctor who they cited in the article, Dr. Robert Krikorian, actually said that “the MRI results also were not as striking for those receiving blueberry powder” for his research study. Dr. Krikorian concluded, “these preliminary memory findings are encouraging and suggest that consistent supplementation with blueberries may offer an approach to forestall or mitigate neurodegeneration”, meaning his results were inconclusive.  In fact, the only researcher that has done a study on this was Dr. Krikorian, who even published an article titled “Blueberry Supplementation Improves Memory in Older Adults”, meaning that this cannot be fully debunked until there is more evidence.

  • Your conclusions: would you recommend this treatment, is it dangerous, is it misleading/unethical? 

I spent an entire school year researching Alzheimer’s disease, and I have read many well written articles from academic journals showing how the intake of certain vitamins, such as Vitamin E, can improve memory; however, each article stated how their research is inconclusive. Although it would not hurt to eat blueberries since they are healthy and provide many nutrients, and although it may be possible that it improves memory due to those factors, that does not mean that it should be your only ‘treatment’ for Alzheimer’s disease or any other neurodegenerative disease. The reasoning behind why blueberries are a ‘natural treatment’ for Alzheimer’s disease since it is a ‘super fruit’ seems ridiculous to me, since they could make the same claim about any other fruit, they all have their benefits, but they should not replace medical treatments to reduce the symptoms of Alzheimer’s (approved by the FDA) such as Donepezil and Memantine.

  • Cite any sources you may have used.






Official Brown University Link:


Primrose’s Field Optical illusion

Screenshot (250)

Screenshot (251)

Screenshot (252)

Screenshot (253)

Screenshot (254)

Screenshot (255)

Screenshot (256)

I created a PowerPoint presentation for this assignment; however, it would not allow me to upload it, so I have attached the screenshots of my presentation! I would recommend zooming in, in order to view the effects of the optical illusion!

Here is a transcript of the presentation if you cannot read it:

The “Primrose’s Field” optical illusion was created and designed by Akiyoshi Kitaoka, who was a professor of psychology in Ristumeikan University. In the optical illusion you will see a checkered background consisting of an alternation of light green and dark green squares. In the corners of the squares, there are primroses in the colors of magenta and white. However, there is a 1 square outer perimeter with only two primroses on them.

According to Kitaoka, there are two factors that affect the strength of his illusory motion:

  1. )The peripheral drift illusion is enhanced by stepwise luminance profiles
  2. )The peripheral drift illusion is enhanced by fragmented or curved edges

I believe that this applies to the fragmented order of the primroses. For instance, if you look diagonally, the thickness of the amount of primroses – sometimes there are two rows of pink primroses or two rows of white primroses, which I believe creates the “wave” effect.

The sequence of tones across edges in the patterns is crucial, from dark to mid-tone to light to dark, as is the size and thickness of the primroses, and the regularity of the pattern across the field of view is important too.  It’s probable that the effect of movement arises because the brain takes longer to process the junctions with quite low contrast, for example from green to white, than the junctions with lots of contrast, as from white to pink.

The time and direction differences are picked up by movement detectors in peripheral vision, and because they are synchronized for elements of similar orientation, the elements appear to move as coherent blocks.  In the ocean wave example, diagonal columns of white primroses alternate with squares with dark pink primroses.  The columns therefore seem to move against one another. The details of exactly which receptor cells in the retina are involved are currently being researched.

Scientists believe that the waves created by the optical illusion has to do with ‘fixation jitter’, which are involuntary eye movements that give the illusion that objects near what you are fixated on are actually moving. Another explanation is that the motion detectors in your visual cortex get ‘confused’ by dynamic changes in your neuron, and you believe that the image is moving.

According to Kitoaka, “Visual neurons respond faster to the higher-contrast elements than to lower-contrast elements. Therefore the motion signals are faster for the higher-contrast elements, which makes sense because such contrast-dependent timing differences would mimic the sequence of a stimulus that moved from the position of the higher-contrast element to that of the lower”.

Sources: (optical illusion)

Picture sources:

Official Brown University Link:


If any of you grew up watching Tom and Jerry, you would recognize this cunning little mouse from one of the most famous cartoon duos, Jerry. Jerry has always found a way outsmart his recurring nemesis – Tom. You name it, from using Tom’s schemes to catch Jerry against him to finding a shark fin to pretend to be a shark; this quick-witted mouse has always found a way to escape becoming Tom’s next dinner plate since 1940! Since Jerry happens to be a mouse, he would have the brain structure of a one; however, since he is the most intelligent character appearing in the series, especially since he out-tricks Tom and steals the cheese every time. I believe he would have a larger cerebral cortex, specifically a larger frontal lobe since it is responsible for initiating and coordinating motor movements and higher cognitive skills, such as problem solving, planning, and organizing. His parietal lobe and occipital lobe, working along with the Thalamus to pass sensory information, would also be larger since he pays close attention to his surroundings in order to avoid being caught by Tom and the humans in the show (since they do not want mice in their house). Furthermore, since Jerry stands up and runs throughout the series, along the background knowledge that mice have spinal cords, Jerry would have one as well.

Sarah Jerry Brain Drawing

Official Brown University Link:

Primary and Secondary Sources: Do Synthetic Cannabinoids Make You Act Like a Zombie?

A link to the popular (secondary) literature piece

Why Does Synthetic Marijuana Make People Act Like Zombies?

  • A link to the primary literature article

Spice drugs are more than harmless herbal blends: a review of the pharmacology and toxicology of synthetic cannabinoids

  • A summary of the popular media piece

The popular media piece focuses on the effects of synthetic cannabinoid usage such as an increase in hallucinations, panic attacks, anxiety, and psychotic episodes, which are considered “zombie-like” according to the article. The creation of further synthetic drugs, K2, cause extremely low blood pressure, a slow heart rate, and could result in seizures or comas. Although the way in which the compounds produce their effects is still unclear, these drugs could lead to a “groggy” feeling when the synthetic cannabinoids attach to receptors in the brain in order to interact with dopamine, making the drug user’s arms and legs to feel extremely stiff. When the drug instead interacts with serotonin, it apparently makes the user feel “zombie-like and out of it”. The reason why synthetic marijuana, or spice, has more extreme effects compared to the use of non-synthetic cannabis is due to the higher potency in compounds in the synthetic cannabinoid, from 10-200 times stronger, than THC in marijuana.

  • A summary of the actual findings from the primary source

The findings from the primary source also states that there is limited knowledge on the mechanics behind the effects of synthetic cannabinoids. The article also focuses on the effects of synthetic cannabinoid use such as tumor development, psychosis as evident through a stimulus on monkeys, psychomotor agitation, and burning eyes. The academic journal references various other studies in order to demonstrate the validity of the research. For instance, in a Hurst’s case study, it was found that the subjects experienced hallucinations, anxiety, and insomnia due to the use of ‘spice’. The article concludes that more research needs to be conducted in order to improve the understanding of how compounds interact with receptors in the brain and develop treatments for intoxication with in vivo testing.

  • Your reflection on the following questions: 
    • Do you think the popular piece accurately reflects the scientific finding?

I believe the popular piece accurately reflects the scientific findings given that there has not been much testing on synthetic cannabinoids and limited knowledge on how they interact in the brain. Both articles had similar physical and neurological effects of the usage of K2.

  • How are these two different?

The articles are different in many ways. Firstly, the primary source article was more thorough since it referenced multiple studies and academic journals to justify their reasoning to which why synthetic cannabinoids are more harmful than non-synthetic cannabinoids. On the other hand, the popular article had less of a formal tone and did not reference as many sources as the primary source article. The primary article also described the effects in a more specific matter with subcategories of: acute effects, psychoactive effects, physical effects, and long term effects, whereas the popular article only listed “zombie-like” effects.

  • Where is the aspects exaggerated or misrepresented?

The aspects are exaggerated in the popular article since the authors referred to every side-effect of ‘spice’ usage as “zombie-like” or “looking and acting like zombies”. The article also did not include other side effects of the drug usage such as a reduction in hippocampus size, as evident in the primary source article.

  • How would you improve the popular media piece?

I would improve the popular media piece by using more credible sources and explaining the chemical composition of synthetic marijuana as evident in the primary source article.

Official Brown Link:

Super Serotonin

The neurotransmitter I chose was Serotonin because of my previous background knowledge on the link between serotonin levels and mental disorders such as anxiety and depression. The message I tried to convey was how Serotonin is linked to happiness, thus I drew a cartoon-like ‘Super Serotonin’ to express this. Along with the use of bright and playful colors in order to make the zine appear more eye-catching and approachable. My creative process involved using my drawing tablet in order to configure a model that I would use as the ‘main character’ of my zine, who would explain the functions of Serotonin and the places it is found. I used a mixture of digital and traditional art because I wanted the zine to look complete and neat. The look I was going for was energetic and playful, since Serotonin is often associated with mood, specifically happiness.