BOSTON (CBS) – Time Magazine just released its list of the 100 most influential people in the world and a Boston scientist was celebrated as one of the pioneers.
Dr. Rudolph Tanzi has been described as a “rock star scientist”. He played keyboards on Aerosmith’s last album and jams with Joe Perry and the Joe Perry Project, but it’s his work in his lab at Mass General Hospital that has rocked the world of Alzheimer’s research.
Music plays a big part in Dr. Tanzi’s daily life.
“I have to play every day,” he says, “it wakes up that creative part of the brain that allows you to think out of the box and improvise in science the way you do in music.”
And when it comes to improvisation Dr. Tanzi is equally at home behind the keyboard jamming with Joe Perry of Aerosmith or in his lab at Mass General where his research this year with researcher Doo Yeon Kim on the origins of Alzheimer’s disease changed everything.
“In the last year we have now settled a raging debate that went on for 30 years about how Alzheimer’s is caused,” Dr. Tanzi said.
The research is incredibly complex, but here’s what they did: using stem cells they created human nerve cells, but put them in a gel to simulate the human brain – that’s what Dr. Tanzi calls “Alzheimer’s in a dish.”
“And Voila! Next thing you know we had full blown Alzheimer’s pathology and we were able to answer some very critical questions that had been unanswered for decades. Now we have the first real view of the events in order that lead to this disease,” said Dr. Tanzi.
And understanding that order – plaquing which then leads to tangles and brain inflammation – means he can test thousands of drugs a hundred times faster to ultimately find a cure.
“Now we can test all of those at once in the “Alzheimer’s in a dish” model,” he explains “to see which one stops the plaques and the tangles.”
At the Time 100 Gala this week, he rubbed elbows with stars like Julianne Moore who won an Oscar for playing an Alzheimer’s patient, but after the gala he was right back to improvising in the lab.
“I’ve never been more optimistic or enthusiastic about the prospects for preventing and treating Alzheimer’s than I am right now,” Dr. Tanzi said.
Dr. Tanzi gives credit for all of his breakthroughs to the money he receives from the “Cure Alzheimer’s Fund” in Boston.
The founders pay for all expenses – so every dollar donated to the fund is a dollar that goes straight to Alzheimer’s research.
Dr. Tanzi and Chris Mann have co-wrote the song “Remember Me” to raise money for Alzheimer’s research. It is available on iTunes.