From Publishers Weekly
This account follows the subtle trail left by Alzheimer's in a woman's life and death--and well past it. In the late 1890s, Hannah, a Ukrainian woman, died with a then-unnamed disease of the brain which had caused premature senility by mid-life. In 1985, almost a century after her death, Pollen, a professor of neurology and physiology at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, first came into contact with Jeff, one of Hannah's heirs. Only 51, Jeff too appeared to be in the early stages of Alzheimer's, the degenerative illness of the brain that damages memory and higher thought processes. Studying Jeff's family history, Pollen observed that the "information that would help molecular geneticists to find an abnormal gene that causes familial Alzheimer's disease was literally placed in my hands." And the author thus begins his tale of the pursuit of the genes responsible for this devastating illness. The foundation for the quest originates in Gregor Mendel's classic discovery of genes, in Alois Alzheimer's descriptions of the neurofibrillary tangles found in the brains of those with presenile dementia, and in Watson and Crick's model for the double-helix strands of DNA. While Pollen explains the larger context of the scientific search for the cause of the disease, he also underscores the frustrations of those families affected by its ravages. Pollen's portrait of Hannah and her family bestows a human dimension to his complex scientific detective story. Illustrations not seen by PW.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Kirkus Reviews
High technology and human tragedy; luck and persistence; altruism and competition--they all come together in this absorbing tale of medical detection that spans decades and crosses continents. In 1985, Pollen (Neurology and Physiology/UMass Medical Center) examined an Alzheimer's patient who brought with him a multigenerational family tree representing the most extensive known pedigree of the disease. The records began with ``Hannah,'' an ancestor born in Byelorussia 150 years ago, and included data on dozens of her descendants, living and dead--information, Pollen immediately realized, of great significance to geneticists. Here, he recounts a two-fold tale--that of geneticists determined to find the abnormal gene that causes familial-based Alzheimer's, and of an afflicted family determined to help them. Science basics are provided in a brief look at the work of Gregor Mendel, the founder of genetic science, and of Alois Alzheimer, the 19th-century Bavarian physician who identified the dementia that bears his name. Occasionally, the technicalities of modern molecular genetics may slow the general reader down, but Pollen doesn't lose sight of the human story: In one chapter, he describes his own mother's descent into dementia. The author also explains that, despite the 1991 linking by British researchers of a mutation in a specific gene to one form of familial Alzheimer's, the key to the vast majority of cases remains to be found. Teams of researchers in England, Belgium, Canada, and the US are competing fiercely to be the first with new findings, prompting Pollen to question the roles of competition and cooperation in modern medical research. In spite of some difficult technical passages: an exciting story that reveals much about how science is done--and that says something affirmative about the human spirit as well. (Eleven illustrations--not seen). -- Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.