“I tell friends that I play with brains all day long,” jokes José Gonzalez, Lesley alum and histotechnologist/brain bank manager at the Alzheimer’s Disease Resource Center at Mass General Hospital.
Through his work at the brain bank, José is playing a part in studies that could ultimately lead to a cure for Alzheimer’s and other diseases. After processing the brains and preparing slides of tissue, he provides them to researchers at MGH or ships them to places across the globe, from Antarctica to Iceland, Switzerland and beyond. “When you zoom out far enough, you see the ways in which you are actually helping families who have Huntington’s Disease, ALS, progressive supranuclear palsy, and tons of different neurodegenerative diseases that people are afflicted with,” says José. “We’re distributing these brains to researchers who are looking how to find that cure. That thing that turns on a disease or turns it off.”
Working Toward a Cure
What José finds most interesting about his work at the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center is how much is still unknown.
“That’s really what draws me to the field,” he says. “The way that we think, the way that we become conscious is such a mysterious realm. What we do here is try to understand, on a molecular and biochemical basis, why we decided to eat that hotdog. What led us to that decision? And we don’t know.”
It’s that draw to discover the unknown that’s also one of the biggest challenges in Alzheimer’s research. While the search for a cure is urgent, the slow pace of research can often make the end goal seem far from reach. But José focuses on the immediate, as well as the long-term impacts of his work. “We’re looking to cure Alzheimer’s,” he says. “But we’re also looking at small ways in which we can make improvements in people’s lives, like remembering what your daughter’s name is. For that split second you’ve helped somebody remember who they are and the people around them. It’s those little slivers of hope that keeps us going.”
Connecting to Lesley
Before starting his career at the brain bank, José helped create the Cognitive Neuroscience minor while he was a Lesley student, an experience that he says helped him land his job.
José’s hope for the Lesley community is that students will take more neuroscience courses to learn not only about the holistic therapies of healing, but also what lies behind those therapies. He believes that a better understanding of the brain may inform the ways that we heal.
“I want to push students to dive into this world,” he says “And if they have any questions they can contact me or any other brain bankers in the country. We’re a small cohort, but we’re a friendly cohort.”