Toronto Star

History of a curse


1750: Maria Luisa, believed to be the first paisa mutation carrier, is born in Antioquia. She and her husband, Javier, are descendant­s of European settlers. They have at least three children.

1750s to 1980s: For more than two centuries, the mutation is passed from generation to generation in the geneticall­y isolated northweste­rn province.

1984: Dr. Francisco Lopera diagnoses Pedro Julio with hereditary early-onset Alzheimer’s disease and the genealogic­al detective work begins.

1995: Together with Dr. Kenneth Kosik, then at Harvard Medical School, and Alison Goate from Washington University, Lopera identifies the exact location of the paisa mutation on chromosome­14.

Late 1990s: Lucia Madrigal, psychologi­st and nurse, is kidnapped by guerillas while collecting blood samples in Dabei-ba, a town north of Medellin. She demands they take care of the samples, so the fighters chill them in a lake until they release her several days later. Violence keeps researcher­s from going back regularly for several years.

2000s: Twenty-five mutation-carrying families have been identified. Lopera has proved that roughly half are descendant­s of Maria Luisa and Javier. He believes the other families are descendant­s but incomplete birth records make it impossible to prove.

2012: Plans for a clinical trial are announced.

2013: The research team administer­s the drug to the first study participan­ts in December.

2015: Recruitmen­t continues. The research team hopes to have all 300 participan­ts by December. The trial will end five years after the final volunteer receives his or her first injection. Amy Dempsey

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