The Wire @ WPI Online
VOLUME 13, NO. 1     DEC 1999

Anony-mouse? Anonymity's a fact of life for scientists

Recent stories in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal that trumpeted the development of a vaccine by Elan Pharmaceuticals that was effective in preventing and reversing Alzheimer's disease are a perfect example. In the early 1990s, Adams collaborated with five senior researchers at the former TSI Corp. to develop transgenic mice that exhibit aspects of Alzheimer's disease--a preliminary step in the search for the cure for this debilitating brain disorder.

The scientists were able to clone a rare and aggressive form of the human Alzheimer's gene and implant it into a mouse embryo and were also able to dictate where the symptoms would develop in the rodent's brain. As the mice grew older they developed amyloid plaques like those in human Alzheimer's victims. The plaques also damaged nerves and synapses in their brains--another similarity to human aspects of the disease.

When Adams' research was published in 1995 in Nature, the prestigious weekly international science journal, it was hailed by the Times and the WSJ as a landmark finding in Alzheimer's research. It was so important that The Scientist later noted that the Nature story was the third most cited article in all of science that year. It was also one of the last times Adams' name was associated with the New Age rodents.

This scenario was familiar to Adams, who explains that after scientists reach their goals they often sell their research rights to other groups that can build on them. In the case of the Alzheimer's mouse, TSI established Exemplar Corp. to continue the work. Exemplar was eventually sold to an Elan subsidiary. "Their vaccine appears to have achieved the next logical landmark in the field of Alzheimer's research," says Adams. "It has allowed the testing of a key question, 'If you remove a plaque once it has formed, does this prevent or stop neurodegeneration?'"

Adams is happy to have played a part in the search for a cure for Alzheimer's, but like most of his colleagues working in labs in academia or private industry, he never has only one thing in his research incubator. His current research is focused on four areas:

"It is a fact of life that what happens after the 'local science' is done is that you let it go," says Adams. "No one is an island unto himself anymore because no one can afford to be. Larger companies with enough money to bankroll the very expensive clinical trials must take over the work if the public is ever to benefit from our research."

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Last modified: Jan 20, 2000, 15:44 EST