Scientists Explore Ties Between Alzheimer's And Brain's Ancient Immune System

Their first epiphanies came during musings over beer, and evolved into a decade of teamwork. Two Harvard researchers explain why they think Alzheimer's disease may be traced to an immunity glitch.
This light micrograph of a part of a brain affected by Alzheimer's disease shows an accumulation of darkened plaques, which have molecules called amyloid-beta at their core. Once dismissed as all bad, amyloid-beta might actually be a useful part of the immune system, some scientists now suspect — until the brain starts making too much. Source: Martin M. Rotker

Beer has fueled a lot of bad ideas. But on a Friday afternoon in 2007, it helped two Alzheimer's researchers come up with a really a good one.

Neuroscientists Robert Moir and Rudolph Tanzi were sipping Coronas in separate offices during "attitude adjustment hour" at Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard's largest teaching hospital. And, by chance, each scientist found himself wondering about an apparent link between Alzheimer's disease and the immune system.

Moir had been surfing through random scientific papers online — something he does for an hour or

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