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Scientists Retract Report of Making Alzheimer’s-like Disease in Mice

February 28, 1992

NEW YORK (AP) _ Three scientists are retracting a study in which they reported creating mice that develop a brain condition resembling Alzheimer’s disease.

The scientists said they were unable to duplicate their reported finding that the mice develop brain abnormalities characteristic of the disease.

The National Institutes of Health has agreed to appoint a committee of experts to study the matter at the request of the National Institute on Aging, where one of the researchers works, a spokeswoman for the institute on aging said Friday.

Scientists had been excited by the original report because it appeared to provide a means to study the disease in animals, in which researchers can do experiments they could not do in humans.

The three researchers had reported they produced the animals by inserting thousands of copies of a fragment of a human gene into mouse embryos. Other scientists had reported similar results, but experts regarded the newer finding as a step forward.

The study was reported in December in the journal Nature by Dr. Jon Gordon of the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, Gerald Higgins of the institute on aging, and Shigeki Kawabata of the Yamanouchi Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd. in Tokyo.

In a letter of retraction, dated Feb. 21, they told Nature editors that the question of whether the mice still constitute a useful way to study Alzheimer’s ″remains to be assessed by further study.″

Copies of the letter were released by the institute on aging and Mount Sinai. The letter reported the failure to duplicate the original findings but offered no explanation. Further evaluation is being done, the letter said.

Gordon declined to comment Friday. Higgins did not return a telephone call, and Jane Shure, spokeswoman for the institute on aging, said Higgins would not be available all day.

Shure and Mel Granick, spokesman for Mount Sinai, also declined to comment, citing the NIH inquiry.

Statements released this week by the institute and Mount Sinai said the researchers wrote the retraction letter ″after re-examining their data and performing additional studies, following questions that arose about their original findings late last month.″

Dr. Donald Price of the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions in Baltimore said Friday that the concerns appeared after experts looked closely at photographs in the study of what the researchers called characteristic abnormalities in the mouse brains.

Abnormalities that appeared to be conspicuous with one type of staining, a technique used to make them visible, did not appear as evident when other stains were used, Price said. This discrepancy ″led some investigators to question what was really going on,″ he said.

Price said that in addition to investigators at Mount Sinai, he examined brain tissue from experimental mice provided by Gordon, and found no abnormalities of the type described in the original study.

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