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The Making of Medicine

Meet Joe Larner

This is Joe Larner. He thought he had made a major breakthrough on Alzheimer’s. He died before he could find out.

Dr. Larner was an eminent scientist and longtime fixture at the School of Medicine who influenced generations of researchers, including two future Nobel winners he recruited to UVA. I met him late in his life, but I was still shocked to discover he was almost 90 years old. I’d have guessed at least 20 years younger. Long after he retired, he still continued to come into work each day, still continued to do the sort of groundbreaking research that defined his career. We first crossed paths when he was preparing to publish a paper on Alzheimer’s. He was very frustrated that he had so much more he wanted to do – to actually test his discovery in people — but couldn’t get funding for it.

Research funding, you see, is subject to trends, like most things. One area will be hot for a while, and research dollars will be (relatively) easy to come by. Then something else will enjoy a vogue and funds for other things will become more scarce. Dr. Larner’s final work fell on the wrong end of the cycle, and now we may never know if he found what he thought he had found. A shame, don’t you think?

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