Hannahs Heirs Quest Genetic Origin

Daniel A. Pollen, Author, Pollen, Author Oxford University Press, USA $30 (320p) ISBN 978-0-19-506809-2
This account follows the subtle trail left by Alzheimer's in a woman's life and death--and well past it. In the late 1890s, Hannah, a Ukrainian woman, died with a then-unnamed disease of the brain which had caused premature senility by mid-life. In 1985, almost a century after her death, Pollen, a professor of neurology and physiology at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, first came into contact with Jeff, one of Hannah's heirs. Only 51, Jeff too appeared to be in the early stages of Alzheimer's, the degenerative illness of the brain that damages memory and higher thought processes. Studying Jeff's family history, Pollen observed that the ``information that would help molecular geneticists to find an abnormal gene that causes familial Alzheimer's disease was literally placed in my hands.'' And the author thus begins his tale of the pursuit of the genes responsible for this devastating illness. The foundation for the quest originates in Gregor Mendel's classic discovery of genes, in Alois Alzheimer's descriptions of the neurofibrillary tangles found in the brains of those with presenile dementia, and in Watson and Crick's model for the double-helix strands of DNA. While Pollen explains the larger context of the scientific search for the cause of the disease, he also underscores the frustrations of those families affected by its ravages. Pollen's portrait of Hannah and her family bestows a human dimension to his complex scientific detective story. Illustrations not seen by PW. (June)
Reviewed on: 05/31/1993
Release date: 06/01/1993
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