Decoding Darkness: The Search for the Genetic Causes of Alzheimer's Disease

Overview

Working from the intriguing hypothesis that Alzheimer's dementia is the result of a renegade protein-beta amyloid-Tanzi and others set out to find the gene responsible for its production. Decoding Darkness takes us deep into the minds and far-flung labs of many a prominent researcher, offering an intimate view of the high stakes of molecular genetics, the revolution that propels it, the obstacles that threaten to derail it, and the families whose lives are so dependent upon it. Tanzi and Parson ultimately reveal ...

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Decoding Darkness: The Search For The Genetic Causes Of Alzheimer's Disease

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Overview

Working from the intriguing hypothesis that Alzheimer's dementia is the result of a renegade protein-beta amyloid-Tanzi and others set out to find the gene responsible for its production. Decoding Darkness takes us deep into the minds and far-flung labs of many a prominent researcher, offering an intimate view of the high stakes of molecular genetics, the revolution that propels it, the obstacles that threaten to derail it, and the families whose lives are so dependent upon it. Tanzi and Parson ultimately reveal that Alzheimer's, like heart disease, may be effectively treated-even prevented.

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Editorial Reviews

Economist
So infectious is [Tanzi's] enthusiasm that, like children at a pantomime, readers happily cheer or hiss at his peculiar-sounding chemicals-especially his villain, A-beta.
New England Journal of Medicine
The story is invigorating, the progress is fantastic, and the writing is lively.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's 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 story--part mystery, part scientific treatise, and part autobiography--Tanzi 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 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Following Daniel Pollen's Hannah's Heirs (LJ 6/93; updated in 1996), this engrossing book is the second major account of the race to uncover the genetics behind Alzheimer's disease as told by one of its main players. Tanzi (neurology, Harvard Medical Sch.) and science journalist Parson discuss his research and the work of others that led to recent genetic discoveries associated with early-onset and late-onset Alzheimer's disease. The personal animosities and lab rivalries described here are reminiscent of the road to discovering the double helix, though Decoding Darkness lacks the crispness and clarity of James Watson's book. Tanzi and Parson also introduce a parallel thread that traces the progression of the disease in a single family, lending human interest to the subject. Written for the informed lay reader, this book will be better appreciated if the reader has some background in molecular genetics. More information on Alzheimer's is available in the "Resources" section. [Both Pollen and Tanzi are profiled in Charles Pierce's excellent Hard To Forget: An Alzheimer's Story (LJ 4/15/00).--Ed.] --Leila Fernandez, Steacie Science Lib., York Univ., Toronto, Ont. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Booknews
Chronicles the struggle to find causes and a possible cure for Alzheimer's disease, centering on the search for the gene responsible for the production of a renegade protein, beta amyloid. Offers a portrait of the high stakes of molecular genetics, the revolution that propels it, the obstacles that threaten to derail it, and the families whose lives depend on it. Tanzi teaches neurology at Harvard Medical School and directs the Massachusetts General Hospital's Genetics and Aging Unit. Parson is a science journalist. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
From The Critics
Decoding Darkness charts the search for the genetic causes of Alzheimer's disease, detailing the studies which have taken place and the promising theory which could help promote new drugs in the battle against Alzheimer's. Lay readers and medical personnel alike will find this a fascinating medical detective treatise which probes molecular clues to illness and therapeutic applications.
Newsday
...in all the best ways, a human account of one of the most important scientific missions of our time.
Nature
...recommended reading for anyone interested in Alzheimer's disease.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780738205267
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 1/28/2002
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 5.78 (w) x 9.02 (h) x 0.84 (d)

Meet the Author

Rudolph E. Tanzi is Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School and Director of the Massachusetts General Hospital's Genetics and Aging Unit. Science journalist Ann B. Parson is co-author, with Isaac Schiff, M.D., of Menopause, and until recently taught in Boston University's graduate program in science and journalism. Rudolph E. Tanzi is Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School and Director of the Massachusetts General Hospital's Genetics and Aging Unit. Science journalist Ann B. Parson is co-author, with Isaac Schiff, M.D., of Menopause, and until recently taught in Boston University's graduate program in science and journalism.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1: Cleave, Zap, Blot, Probe

At twenty-one and fresh out of college, I entrusted myself to the Taoist philosophy that the less you interfere in Nature's course, the more likely you will find your true path in life. This wisdom flowed from a slip of a book I'd discovered in high school-the Tao Te Ching. In retrospect, it would seem that giving myself up to "the way of things" succeeded, because that fall, out of the blue, an opportunity of a lifetime presented itself, one that introduced me to a spectacular new scientific method and later prompted my investigation into the genetic wrongs of Alzheimer's disease.

It was a cloudy September Saturday in 1980, and after the quiet of summer, Boston seemed energized by autumn's return. Beacon Hill's narrow streets were clogged with cars, its crooked-brick walks filled with residents and students who seemed all business. On the Charles River even the sailboats crossing the watery line between Boston and Cambridge flew forward at a clip. A few blocks east on Blossom Street, which curves behind Massachusetts General Hospital, members of the rock band Fantasy and I moved more like laden barges. Sleep-deprived and hungover from the previous night's fling, we nonetheless managed with an elevator's aid to move the band's musical equipment into the Flying Machine, the nightspot atop the Holiday Inn that attracted everyone from visiting Portuguese sailors to the occasional Brahmin.

Four months earlier, in May of 1980, the University of Rochester had sent me into the world with what I hoped would be sufficient padding bachelor's degrees in both history and microbiology. The one, Time Past, had filled me with an indelible impression of the patterns and trends that span recorded centuries. The other, Emergings of Time Future, had left me startled by the phoenix soaring out of the present-the molecular-genetics revolution. Biology's horizon was filled with elaborate possibilities far beyond the imaginings of such tour-de-force microbe hunters as Louis Pasteur, Robert Koch, and Paul Ehrlich.

In the course of my history studies, I'd devoured Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions and taken away his valuable model. One set of beliefs ascends over time, then falls under the weight of a crisis, which inevitably ushers in yet another belief system that rises and similarly collapses, and so on, until there's a sense, as from a wave rolling forward, that you can extrapolate the nature of the next crisis and the new visions it will unfold. Now a scientist, I'm even more aware that the models we put our faith in are mostly wrong. Someday they will be as outmoded as the idea, imagined by Franz Mesmer in the eighteenth century, of how to relieve people of disease: Stand them across from healthy folk in a tub of water, have both groups grasp a long metal chain, and let the positive forces of animal magnetism flow from the healthy into the infirm, miraculously curing them. For scientific revolutions to take flight, current theories have to be questioned, the status quo disrupted. Since my years at Rochester, I've always wanted to induce the next crisis, inspire the next paradigm shift. This is the challenge of science-to shed dogma and get closer to the truth.

But scientific revolutions were the furthest thing from my mind that Saturday atop the Holiday Inn. I was in the throes of a postcollege existentialist crisis. Why did I exist? What was life? Living life as a bushyhaired, scruffy musician and playing keyboard once again with my musician friends from high school days seemed the best way to regain some perspective. When I was ten, my Uncle John had let me fold and unfold the huge red accordion he played in old-age centers around our hometown of Cranston, Rhode island, and from then on I'd been glued to the keys of pianos, electric organs, and synthesizers. Blues, jazz, rock, punk, improv, some classical. One form fed another. I'd come to realize that when I played music on a daily basis-even on an informal basis, as I had throughout college-life was always better. When I didn't, disaster struck...

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Table of Contents

Introduction xiii
1 Cleave, Zap, Blot, Probe 1
2 The Core of the Matter 21
3 Candidate Chromosome 49
4 Gone Fishing 61
5 Curious Gene 85
6 From Famine to Feast 99
7 Mutations, Revelations 115
8 Of Mice and People 135
9 Gene Prix 147
10 The 42 Nidus 173
11 Untangling a Cascade 191
12 A Gamble for Hope 207
Epilogue 241
Resources 249
Notes 251
Index 269
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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 6, 2001

    A Fascinating Book--Highly Recommended!

    This book presents an absolutely fascinating account of Alzheimer's disease research. The authors deliver a very balanced account of Alzheimer's disease gene research giving ample coverage and credit to dozens of worthy scientists working on this terrible disease. This was a great and exciting read--highly recommended!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 30, 2001

    A Better Subject Than Author

    After reading about Dr. Tanzi in the book Hard to Forget and seeing him profiled on tv, I was really expecting a fascinating book. But this book is a big disappointment. At times this seems like a pr piece for Dr. Tanzi, with so much focus on his awards and how important his research is. There's not much humility or dark night of the scientific soul here. I liked Daniel Pollen's Hannah's Heirs, which another reviewer has mentioned -- even though the writing isn't first rate in that book, either, it seems more objective and therefore a 'truer' story. As for this book, all I can say is that it's much more interesting to read something about Dr. Tanzi than it is to read something written by him!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 3, 2000

    Decoding Darkness: The Search for the Genetic Causes of Alzheimer's Disease

    Decoding Darkness is a riveting read. A lay person not familiar with medicine can enjoy this book as well as the most educated doctor. It is brilliantly written by Dr. Tanzi who shows humor and compassion throughout the book. It tells of the fascinating journey from the early days of Tanzi's research to the present day, the changes, the discoveries and the disappointments. The book gives you an inside view of this horrific disease and its traumatic effects on not only the patient, but the family too. It is a must read by anyone who has been touched by this disease and those who have been lucky enough to escape it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 3, 2000

    Decoding Darkness: The Search for the Genetic Causes of Alzheimer's Disease

    Once I started reading Decoding Darkness, it was difficult to put down. I found the book to be a very intriguing story of a scientist who apparently is dedicating his life to finding the cause and cure of Alzheimer's Disease. Dr. Tanzi wrote and Ann Parson's narrated this book in such a way that it held my interest from cover to cover. It was written with a vast amount of information, but easy to understand and with a great deal of humor. I suggest this book for any family who has been afflicted with Alzheimer's and everyone who has a human interest in the curing of diseases and of the people who dedicate their lives to these causes.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 23, 2000

    Fascinating insight into the front lines of research

    This fascinating account transports the reader to the front lines of Alzheimer's disease research. This book brings the reader on a insightful, humorous, and poignant journey from the early days of AD research to the current, where drugs to treat this disease seem close at hand. Like so many others, my family knows the horrors of this disease and are so thankful to AD researchers like Dr. Tanzi who have devoted their lives to unraveling this disease. I found this personal tale very engaging and I have recommended to family and friends.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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