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Have Scientists Been Wrong About Alzheimer’s for Decades?

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Less than two weeks ago, a scandal erupted in the usually staid world of Alzheimer’s research. An investigative report at Science revealed that a researcher at Vanderbilt University, Matthew Schrag, had determined that slides included in a highly influential 2006 paper about the disease that was published in the journal Nature were fabricated. The revelation has cast doubt on a popular, though increasingly embattled, theory of how Alzheimer’s does its grievous damage. I spoke with Nobel laureate Thomas C. Südhof, a professor of molecular and cellular physiology at Stanford and an expert on the disease, about the fallout from the news, as well as how our conceptions of Alzheimer’s are changing.

Are you fully convinced that this seminal Nature paper included fabricated images?
I have to answer this cautiously. I would say that the data that have emerged from the forensic analysis that I’ve seen of the images strongly support the idea that there’s fabrication. What worries me more is that there are multiple allegations of fabrication of images against the author. I don’t actually know that it happened. But if I saw this in a review process with modern image-analysis technology — which is not standard in journals, and it wasn’t standard before — it would certainly lead to a rejection of the paper.

I’m obviously a layman on this subject. But from what I understand, the allegedly fraudulent data solidified the already-popular theory that plaques made up of beta amyloid proteins are — I don’t know if “cause” is the right word here — but they’re a key marker of Alzheimer’s.
Yeah, they’re not only a key marker. They’re probably also an agent of the disease. The question here is not whether they’re important — I think everybody would agree they’re important. The question is whether they, by themselves alone, drive the disease process, or whether they’re part of a larger ensemble of events that cause the disease. It used to be thought that they are the key drivers, but in the last ten years, that has changed. I think most people in the field would now say that they are one facet of the disease process. Nevertheless, I don’t think the importance of beta-amyloid has been questioned.

It seems to me there’s two........

© Daily Intelligencer

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