Alzheimer disease insidiously attacks the brain and deprives people of their most human qualities, leading to memory loss, behavior changes, and ultimately, death. An essay in this month’s issue of Cold Spring Harbor Perspectives in Medicine provides an excellent overview of modern Alzheimer research, its origins and development, scope, driving forces, and key questions, as well as competing ideas and findings within the field. It was written by Dennis Selkoe, Eckhard Mandelkow, and David Holtzman, editors of our recent book The Biology of Alzheimer Disease.

In the essay, Selkoe and colleagues outline key developments that followed the first description of the disease by Alois Alzheimer in 1907.  They explain how the discoveries of tau and amyloid β-protein precursor in the late 1980s and early 1990s brought Alzheimer research into sync with basic research in molecular genetics and protein chemistry.  Furthermore, the recognition of Alzheimer disease as a common disorder – currently estimated to affect 20-25 million people worldwide – has helped define it as an urgent problem in biomedical research.

But beyond that, Selkoe and colleagues describe how tackling a complicated disease – and one that affects the most human qualities of memory, reasoning, language, and emotion – can be intellectually rewarding. “The complexity of the problem and the diverse ways in which one might think about approaching it make for a fascinating adventure in biomedical research,” they write.

For more on Alzheimer research – including discussion of competing ideas between “BAPtists” and “TAUists” – read the complete essay here.