$1M for Alzheimer’s Quest

Professor will use grant to map genes linked to degenerative disease

A Harvard Medical School professor has received about $1 million to fund a promising effort that could move researchers closer to a cure for Alzheimer’s disease.

Professor of Neurology Rudolph E. Tanzi has thus far been awarded about one-third of the $3 million that has been raised by the Cure Alzheimer’s Fund, a charity based in nearby Waltham.

The fund’s leaders believe that targeted research, particularly in the area of genetic mapping, will be more effective in finding a cure than more traditional, broader types of research.

Genetic mapping is the process by which researchers determine which genes are responsible for putting people at risk for a disease.

Tanzi, who identified the first Alzheimer’s disease gene in 1987, is a member of the fund’s Research Consortium.

The money that Tanzi received from the fund allowed the purchase of new technology that changes the way researchers look for relevant genes.

He added that there would have been no way to get enough money from the federal government to purchase all the technology used in his research.

“For the first time in history we have a realistic chance of finding genes...that confer risk for the most common kinds of Alzheimer’s,” Tanzi said.

He said that every single gene discovered provides more insight into Alzheimer’s. “You can’t work on how to cure a disease until you find out what’s causing it.”

The founders of the fund cover all of its operating costs, so that money donated to the fund can go directly to research, the group’s president, Timothy W. Armour, said.

According to Armour, the mapping of the human genome, new methods of statistical analysis, and advances in technology have come together in a “perfect storm” in which new advances in Alzheimer’s research have been generated.

Tanzi said that while genetic mapping is currently the fund’s top priority, other types of Alzheimer’s research receive about half of the fund’s money.

As the genetic mapping project moves towards completion, the fund plans to increase its funding towards research probing the contributions of specific genes to Alzheimer’s.

Researchers who are already familiar with these genes will be offered funding in the hopes that their knowledge will grant them a better understanding of these genes’ role in the disease.

The genetic mapping of Alzheimer’s disease is slated to be completed in summer 2008, but the project is ahead of schedule, said Tanzi.