Center of Science, Policy and Society Programs: AAAS Dialogue on Science, Ethics and Religion
AAAS Dialogue on Science, Ethics and Religion
News & Events: Public LectureToward a Remembrance of Things Past: Solving Alzheimer's Disease
23 September 2004
A remarkable rise in life expectancy during the past century has made Alzheimer's disease (AD) the most common form of progressive intellectual failure in humans. Patients with AD lose their most human qualities - reasoning, abstraction, language and memory. Analyses of the classical brain lesions that Alois Alzheimer described, the senile (amyloid) plaques, and the neurofibrillary tangles, preceded and has guided the search for genetic alterations that could underlie AD. Four genes have been unequivocally implicated to date in inherited forms of AD, and mutations or natural variations in these genes cause excessive accumulation of the amyloid ß-protein and subsequent neuronal degeneration in brain regions important for memory and cognition. This understanding of the genotype-to-phenotype conversions of familial AD, coupled with cell culture and animal models of the process, has led to the development of specific pharmacological strategies to lower amyloid ß-protein levels as a way of treating or preventing all forms of the disease. While hard work lies ahead, the movement of basic research on AD to the clinic represents a triumph of reductionist biology applied to the most complex of all biological systems, the human cerebral cortex. In addition to leading to new opportunities for treatment, research on the Alzheimer's Disease is also providing new insights into one of the great mysteries of nature: how the functions of our brains constitute our selves.
- Dennis J. Selkoe, M.D., Vincent and Stella Coates Professor of Neurologic Diseases, Harvard Medical School, and Director, Center for Neurologic Diseases, Brigham and Women's Hospital
- David Hogue, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary