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Mass. General specialist rocks with Aerosmith

Dr. Rudolph Tanzi spoke at a recent fund-raiser in Plymouth for the Cure Alzheimer’s Fund.Ian Johns Photography

Dr. Rudolph Tanzi of Milton may not want to quit his day job just yet as Massachusetts General Hospital’s vice chairman of neurology and director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit. Or his teaching gig as professor at Harvard Medical School.

But he has a fallback: Tanzi plays occasional keyboard on Aerosmith albums, and also records music for the band’s guitarist, Joe Perry. Their friendship started after meeting on a 2009 photo shoot for Perry’s “Rock Stars of Science” program, which raises money for disease research.

“It’s just something I do on the side,” Tanzi said. “I do books and research, and that takes years. Music provides immediate gratification; you put out a track and listen to the results, it’s immediate. It’s a great feeling.”


His work for Perry is on an as-needed basis, Tanzi said. Perry is doing a new album in Los Angeles, and Tanzi is working on that, and will also work for Aerosmith when called upon. In the past, he’s also played with Iggy Pop and Zak Starkey, he said.

But his prime love and specialty is working with diseases of aging. Tanzi isolated the first familial Alzheimer’s disease gene known as amyloid beta-protein precursor in 1987, and another gene related to the disease in 1995. He speaks regularly on the topic, most recently at a fund-raiser in Plymouth hosted by Milton residents Paul and Leslie Durgin for the Cure Alzheimer’s Fund, on which Tanzi serves as head of its research consortium.

When he was doing his early Alzheimer’s research, Tanzi’s grandmother was diagnosed with the disease “and drove home even more” the importance of the work, he said.

Asked whether there will be a cure for the disease, Tanzi said, “Cure is an interesting word,” adding that the “way present and future generations will deal with it is early detection and early prevention.”


His music helps his medicine, he said.

“By enjoying the success of other endeavors with a faster level of gratification,” he said, “it feeds into the creative process you need.”

Paul E. Kandarian can be reached at pkandarian@aol.com.