Alzheimer's disease, a fatal, annihilating brain disorder, affects millions of men and women around the world. In the United States alone, perhaps one in five persons aged 75 or older suffers from it, though hundreds of thousands of younger people also bear the condition.
Despite its ubiquity, the malady was, until recently, considered a "backwater disease" to which little research attention (and funding) was paid. Advances in gene research, some spearheaded by neurologist Rudolph Tanzi, have led to a new understanding of the causes of Alzheimer's disease, and new possibilities for its cure. In this well-written account of that research, Tanzi and journalist-co-author Ann Parson examine the role of amyloid neuritic plaque, "mucked-up, misfolded protein that fibrilizes and forms rock-hard aggregates that the body can't get rid of." This plaque occurs in humans and certain other carnivorous species (including bears and dogs), and it appears to play a role in neurologic disorders of several kinds. Tanzi reports on recent studies in the use of cholesterol-reducing drugs in lessening levels of "brain dirt," as well as on research that suggests that cardiovascular exercise and a diet low in animal fats can benefit the brain as well as the body. He even cautiously hints that the conquest of Alzheimer's may occur in the very near future. For the time being, his book provides a thoughtful portrait of the illness and of the scholars and scientists who have devoted their lives to combating it. --Gregory McNamee
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From Publishers Weekly
At the turn of the 21st century, Alzheimer's is the fourth leading cause of death of Americans. Twenty years ago, Tanzi, now a professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School and director of Massachusetts General Hospital's Genetics and Aging Unit, worked in a study examining the genetics of Huntington's disease, and while doing so he developed a method for locating disease genes and their proteins., Starting in the 1980s Tanzi applied these methods to the search for the cause or causes of Alzheimer's, a neurogenerative disease similar to Huntington's. In this fascinating storyDpart mystery, part scientific treatise, and part autobiographyDTanzi recounts every step along the way of the search. His own research rests on the hypothesis that deposits of the gummy protein amyloid form millions of plaques that settle between brain cells in the cerebral cortex as the result of a genetic mutation, and he chronicles the search for the gene that contains this mutation. Tanzi's tale (told with the help of science journalist Parson) is not just another sterile account of scientific discovery, as he weaves into his narrative the poignant stories of Alzheimer's families with whom he has worked and patiently guides readers through his own process of discovery and its implications for the future of Alzheimer's patients. (Nov.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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