Neuroscientist Ken Kosik’s team discovered the gene that triggers the early onset of Alzheimer’s in a region of Antioquia, Colombia. After years of research by the local neurologist Francisco Lopera, Professor Kosik got in touch with him to verify the fact that most members of the population in the area had suffered from early-onset Alzheimer’s due to a genetic mutation traced to a common ancestor living more than 375 years ago (probably a Spanish conquistador). This discovery has made its way around the world and has nowadays made the region into the research capital for the cure of this disease. The discovery also shows a harrowing reality: in Antioquia, more than 5,000 people carry the genetic mutation and know for a fact that before their fifth decade of life, Alzheimer’s will silently claim them.
I began working with Kosik about two years ago in the design of a pilot class that will begin next week at the University of California, Santa Barbara. We will focus on interdisciplinary education and employ the loss of memory as a metaphor for the reality in which we live and study the loss of cultural and personal memory through the lenses of neuroscience, anthropology, and art. Seeing Kosik’s curiosity about my way of understanding the power of art in education and the potential of art in the dissemination of information about an illness that is already a daily reality in our aging society was quite an inducement in a critical moment of my career.
But it is philanthropy that makes this project possible, and sadly, the lack of incentives for philanthropy in the European side of the Atlantic prevents us from enjoying the true power of our researchers and creators, leaving a shortage of undreamt dreams.