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:
- Construction of newer versions of the mouse model that build on recently discovered Alzheimer's gene mutations.
- Designing blood clot-dissolving enzymes that could be perfused into a patient's bloodstream near the clot site, where they would dissolve the clot and restore blood flow to the tissue. In a previous collaboration with TSI in the late 1980s, Adams engineered the world's first synthetic clot dissolver and produced it in mammalian cells.
- Accelerating the learning process by identifying, isolating, manufacturing and characterizing ependymin (EPN). Scientists now know that brain cells make certain substances that induce them to regenerate. Research on EPN and other similar new factors could have applications to the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases and spinal cord trauma. Adams and his associates recently cloned full-length EPN genes from goldfish, carp, shiners and giant danios and portions of these genes from other organisms.
- Working with The Collaborative Group (formerly Alpha Beta Technology), Adams is analyzing transcription factors that may be stimulated by Betafectin(c)--one of a class of drugs called immuno-modulators that boost the immune system and therefore reduce the number of postsurgical infections in patients undergoing thoracic and abdominal surgery.
"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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