A disjointed tale of medical detection and scientific research that begins with personal disaster for six drug addicts and ends with new hope for countless sufferers from Parkinson's disease. In 1982 Dr. Langston, then head of the neurology department at the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in California, examined the first of six strangely mute and paralyzed addicts. Investigation eventually revealed that all had injected themselves with synthetic heroin and that a toxin in the drug had destroyed a portion of their brains; they had, in effect, given themselves instant Parkinson's, ordinarily a progressive disease afflicting the elderly. Their bad luck, however, was Langston's good fortune. Finding a substance that could induce Parkinson's was a scientific breakthrough; the ability to induce the disease in laboratory animals created an opportunity to study it and test new forms of treatment. The story, a third-person narrative by Langston (now director of Parkinson's research programs at the California Institute for Medical Research) and Palfreman (a writer and producer of television documentaries), gets sidetracked from time to time by intrusive technical explanations and extraneous details—the scientist appears to be struggling with the writer for control of the material. Nevertheless, there's plenty of drama: police drug busts, critically ill patients, intense professional rivalries, and political infighting. Even the White House became involved when research indicated that fetal tissue obtained from abortions might provide the long-sought cure for Parkinson's. Meanwhile, in 1989, two of Langston's addicts were flown to Sweden for experimental treatment. The results of revolutionary surgery that implanted fetal tissue into their damaged brains were highly promising, and the tale ends with a glimmer of hope. Contains all the elements for a fascinating story, but the telling does not do it justice. (illustrations, not seen).
Read full book review >