Digital Collections

Oral history interview with Rudolph E. Tanzi

  • 1998-Nov-16 – 1998-Nov-18
  • 1998-Nov-24

Rudolph E. Tanzi was born in Cranston, a suburb of Providence, Rhode Island, to parents of Italian descent. His father, until he suffered a fatal heart attack in his forties, was a baker in a family–run bakery in an Italian American community, and his mother started her own medical transcription business, in which Tanzi’s twin sister, older by five minutes, also worked. Always interested in music, Tanzi began playing the accordion at a young age but soon switched to organ. He continued to play, even playing with some famous rock bands when he was a teenager, and now extemporizes his own music. His parents wanted him to be a doctor, and he always understood that he would go to college, in spite of his preference for music. Luckily, he was also interested in the history of science; in high school he entered and won a number of important science competitions. He became interested in microbiology, in which he majored at the University of Rochester. In college he entered the Harry Tabor lab, from the beginning preferring research to medicine. After college he became a technician for James Gusella at Massachusetts General Hospital, helping to identify the Huntington’s chorea gene. He stayed there for four years, continuing at night to play “gigs” with his band. Somewhat tired of genetics, he applied to Harvard to study neuroscience. Work on the chromosome implicated in Down syndrome led him to investigate Alzheimer’s disease. He cloned and characterized the amyloid protein precursor (APP) gene. He returned to Gusella’s lab after publishing several papers. Deciding to remain at Harvard, he has progressed from assistant professor to full professor; he is also the director of the genetics and aging unit at Massachusetts General Hospital. His research into Alzheimer’s disease has resulted in the search for the amyloid gene and the discovery of the presenilin 1 and 2 genes. He continues to study the role of alpha-2 macroglobulin (A2M) in Alzheimer’s disease; to seek to identify risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease; and to look for new methods to discover the causes of AD. He is currently writing a book about Alzheimer’s, a book for the layman.

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