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Rachael Neve, PhD, director, Molecular Neurogenetics Laboratory

“This is an exciting new direction that may lead to entirely new ways to understand Alzheimer’s disease and work towards a cure.”
“Thank you for the care you showed my dad and family during his two admissions at McLean. You all established a level of care that other caregivers should consider the gold standard to live up to.”
—PAUL TESONE, DDS, whose father suffered from Alzheimer’s disease

Alzheimer’s researcher bucks tradition

It’s well past midnight and half the world is fast asleep; but inside one McLean laboratory, classical music is blaring, and Rachael Neve, PhD, is hard at work: Unconventional hours for a woman whose research is viewed as unconventional by her peers. Neve is director of McLean’s Molecular Neurogenetics Laboratory. For 10 years, she faced nearly insurmountable odds, pushing for the scientific establishment to publish her research. In August 2003, her tenacity paid off and her new theory of what may cause Alzheimer’s disease (AD) appeared in the prestigious Journal of Neuroscience.

Until now, AD research has focused on either beta-amyloid plaques, protein fragments derived from the amyloid precursor protein (APP) that accumulate in brains with AD, or fibrous tangles of a protein called tau, as the two potential causes. Neve’s findings introduce a new theory—toxicity of APP itself. Her research shows that a peptide called C99, derived from APP, invades neurons and causes them to try to divide. Since neurons cannot divide, this attempt at entering the cell cycle forces the neurons to self-destruct.

“This is a whole new way of looking at Alzheimer’s disease that suggests the illness looks a lot like cancer. The difference is rather than cells proliferating as in cancer, neurons die because they can’t divide,” says Neve.

Neve believes she is on the right track. Her groundbreaking research could lead to new and far more effective treatments for Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer’s disease affects approximately 4 million people in the United States. Those with the illness find it increasingly difficult to remember, think clearly and use language. Aging and Alzheimer’s disease are among the largest areas of research funded at McLean, accounting for 15 percent of the hospital’s $45 million in annual research support.