Vice Chair of Neurology; Director, Genetics and Aging Research Unit; Co-Director, Henry and Allison McCance Center for Brain Health; Co-Director, MassGeneral Institute for Neurodegenerative Disease (MIND); Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Professor of Neurology, Harvard Medical School
Early in his career, Dr. Tanzi worked with Dr. James Gusella to discover the first human genetic markers and use them to find a disease gene (Huntington’s disease). He went on to first discover the amyloid precursor protein (APP) gene, the first Alzheimer’s disease (AD) gene, and he co-discovered the two other early-onset familial AD genes, known as the presenilins (PSEN1 and PSEN2). As leader of the Cure Alzheimer’s Fund Alzheimer’s Genome ProjectÔ, Dr. Tanzi identified several other AD genes, including ADAM10, ATXN1 and CD33, the first AD gene directly modulating neuroinflammation. He also discovered the Wilson’s disease gene and contributed to the discovery of several other neurological disease genes.
Dr. Tanzi and his team were the first to use human stem cells to create a human brain organoid model of AD, dubbed “Alzheimer’s in a Dish,” a three-dimensional human stem cell-derived neural culture system, which was the first to recapitulate the key AD pathological hallmarks. This system also was used to definitively show for the first time that amyloid plaques cause neurofibrillary tangles. This model has made drug screening for AD much faster and more effective. Using this system, Dr. Tanzi has developed several novel therapies for AD, including gamma secretase modulators aimed at plaque pathology, and other drugs, including repurposing of cromolyn for targeting neuroinflammation. Dr. Tanzi and his team also discovered that amyloid beta, the main component of senile plaques, plays a key role in the innate immune system of the brain operating as an antimicrobial peptide, suggesting a possible role for infection in driving AD pathology.
Dr. Tanzi serves as Chair of the Cure Alzheimer’s Fund Research Leadership Group and numerous advisory and editorial boards. He has published well more than 550 research papers and has received the highest awards in his field, including the Metropolitan Life Foundation Award, Potamkin Prize, Ronald Reagan Award, Silver Innovator Award and the Smithsonian American Ingenuity Award, the top national award for invention and innovation. He serves on dozens of editorial boards and scientific advisory boards and was named to TIME magazine’s list of TIME 100 Most Influential People in the World for 2015. He co-authored the books Decoding Darkness, and three international bestsellers, Super Brain, Super Genes and The Healing Self.