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.
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.