About The Forgetting: meet the scientists
Steven DeKosky, M.D. and William Klunk, M.D.
Dr. Steven DeKosky is the James Carroll Flippin professor in Medical Science and vice president and dean of the School of Medicine at the University of Virginia, and a professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Dr. William Klunk is a psychiatrist at the University of Pittsburgh, one of the nation's top institutions for diagnosing, treating and studying Alzheimer's. Together, they discovered the breakthrough "Pittsburgh Compound” or PIB—the first chemical to be safely used for neuroimaging of beta-amyloid in the brain. Painstakingly engineered to harmlessly cross the intricate barrier that guards the brain, the compound allows scientists to see the plaques that build up in the brain of someone living with Alzheimer's. Until their incredible breakthrough, this hallmark physical sign of Alzheimer's could not be seen until an autopsy was performed after death. Now researchers are able to watch the progress of Alzheimer's in the brain of living patients. Since its discovery, PIB has been widely used in research to image amyloid in the brain at 33 research facilities around the globe.
Rudolph Tanzi, Ph.D.
A professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School, Dr. Tanzi is the director of the Genetics and Aging Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital and heads up the Alzheimer’s Genome Project. As one of the first researchers to map chromosome 21, Dr. Tanzi has been a leader in the search for genetic causes of Alzheimer's disease. The smallest human chromosome, number 21, has long been associated with Down syndrome. When researchers discovered that the brains of Down syndrome patients often contained the same amyloid plaques characteristic in Alzheimer's, Tanzi began to search the chromosome for a genetic connection. That search led to the isolation of the amyloid precursor protein (APP) gene, mutations of which cause a rare early onset form of Alzheimer's that is passed from generation to generation in affected families. Tanzi works with families like the Noonans and continues to identify other genes connected with Familial and Sporadic Alzheimer's. He is the co-author of Decoding Darkness: The Search for the Genetic Causes of Alzheimer's Disease.
Bradley Hyman, M.D., Ph.D.
A practicing neurologist and professor of neurology, Dr. Hyman and his team use imaging, genetic research and patient test results to try to unravel some of Alzheimer's biggest mysteries. Why do some people get it faster than others? Why do some have symptoms, such as hallucinations, that others never get? Like other researchers, Dr. Hyman and his colleagues at Harvard University's Center for Aging, Genetics and Neurodegeneration saw the potential benefits of seeing amyloid plaques in a living brain. Using mice injected with a human gene that would stimulate plaque growth, Hyman used a powerful new microscope to see deep into the brains of living genetically modified mice. Combining this new method with the Pittsburgh Compound allowed scientists to safely see—for the first time—the location of plaques in a living brain, a practice now successfully duplicated with human Alzheimer's patients.
John Growdon, M.D.
Dr. Growdon is the director of the Memory Disorders Unit and chief clinician for Alzheimer's at Massachusetts General Hospital. Many of the patients he sees have the opportunity to become involved with research on potential new treatments. He runs a multidisciplinary team of doctors and researchers that focuses on accurate diagnosis of the disease, the effectiveness of certain drugs, and medical treatments that can improve functionality and quality of life for people with Alzheimer's. Dr. Growdon also specializes in treating and researching another degenerative neurological ailment: Parkinson's disease.