Skip to main content

Guests celebrate Roses' contributions to Alzheimer's disease

Thursday, June 21, 2018
By Imani Taylor
Guests socializing

The clock struck six, and the remembrance of Dr. Allen Roses, MD, began. The bartender filled wine glasses with drinks, and mini conversations about Roses arose during dinner in the Allen Ambassador room of Washington Duke Inn building.

The dinner shortly followed a symposium that was held Friday night, with a series of speakers who talked about recent research on Alzheimer’s disease. Bread, dessert, and meals were served to 45 invited friends, family, and colleagues of Roses, to celebrate his life and to acknowledge his contribution to Duke’s Department of Neurology and its ongoing study of Alzheimer’s.

Roses found the first evidence for a genetic association with late-onset Alzheimer’s disease by identifying a gene, APOE4, associated with the condition. Modern research has confirmed that people with the APOE4 gene are at a much higher risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease than people without. Fifteen percent of the population carries the APOE4 gene, but 50 percent of people with Alzheimer’s have it. Roses later discovered a second significant genetic risk factor, TOMM40, which is currently being tested in the TOMMORROW clinical trial as part of a biomarker algorithm for risk of mild cognitive impairment.

Discovering two genes linked to Alzheimer’s disease weren’t Roses’ only accomplishments at Duke. According to his wife Ann Saunders, PhD, there were other achievements in Roses’ medical career that were not discussed during the dinner.  

“One, is pushing forward thymectomies in myasthenia gravis. He pushed very, very hard for this to be tested,” Saunders said.  “And Surgery fought him tooth and nail because he was still a hippie. But somehow, Allen connived his way to get Surgery to do thymectomies on very special patients. They were  young, and in really bad shape. And he was extraordinary successful in treating myasthenia gravis with those thymectomies.”

Dr. Roses also worked effortlessly to find the genetic causes of muscular dystrophies, especially  myotonic dystrophy and Duchenne muscular dystrophy.  He was able to test the sister of one of his former Duchenne patients who died in his early 20’s to inform her she was not a carrier of the disease.

“It meant the world to him that he could give her answers, and tell her that she wasn’t,” Saunders said, holding back tears.  

Roses’ family and friends agreed to the positive impact he had on the lives of people who knew him, especially those he treated with myasthenia gravis.

“We still even after his death get Christmas cards from some of those patients who are now in their thirties,” Saunders said.  

“Allen had a kind heart and would help out anyone if they’d ask him,” Allen’s former executive assistant and office manager Mindy McPeak said.

Humorous, highly intelligent, and down to earth is how McPeak described him. To elaborate on his humorous ways, his daughter Maija Roses had a story to tell.

“My favorite story about my dad was when I was maybe eight years old, maybe six. I was at the Durham summer swim league championships. And when you’re a young swimmer, you’d write your events on your arm or like, your parent’s would because my handwriting was and still is awful, and you would usually write like 25  fly like for butterfly, like short hand. And, he decided to be funny in sharpie to write 25  butt. So like, I was walking around with ‘butt’ on my arm.”

Roses died from a heart attack on September 30, 2016. His involvement with Duke’s Neurology Department lasted for more than five decades.

Roses’ daughters Maija and Stephanie both agreed that their Sunday drives to eat dim sum at a local Chinese restaurant and their father’s stories is what they will remember most about Roses.