Alice Lazzarini is a renowned neuroscientist, author, and pioneer in the study of neurogenetic disorders. She is best known for codiscovering the first gene mutation linked to familial Parkinsonism, a breakthrough that upended conventional thinking in the mid-1990s and changed the trajectory of Parkinson’s disease research.

Lazzarini was a clinical assistant professor of neurology at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School when department chair Roger Duvoisin challenged her to find a genetic basis for the disease. At that time, Parkinson’s was thought to be caused by environmental factors. To investigate Duvoisin’s hypothesis, Lazzarini conducted a study of more than 200 of his patients.

When Lazzarini’s team uncovered a large family that contained 60 affected people across 11 generations, a collaboration was formed with researchers at the National Institutes of Health and the University of Naples in Italy. Lazzarini then traveled to Contursi, Italy, to obtain blood samples that allowed her and her fellow researchers to find the causative gene mutation. The discovery made headlines around the world.

Other highlights of Lazzarini’s scientific career include developing early predictive testing protocols for Huntington’s disease and identifying the causative gene for spinocerebellar ataxia in a family line dating to the 17th century. She has contributed to more than 75 research papers and abstracts covering the genetics of restless legs syndrome, X-linked mental retardation, and other neurogenetic disorders. Before retiring in 2004, she worked in the pharmaceutical industry on the development of medication for Parkinson’s. She holds a master’s degree in genetic counseling and a doctorate in cell and developmental biology from Rutgers’ Graduate School–New Brunswick.

Lazzarini now writes about and advocates for research on the disease to which she devoted much of her career. Her memoir, Both Sides Now: A Journey from Researcher to Patient, relates the poignant story of her breakthrough discoveries and the realization that she herself was developing Parkinson’s.  

In addition to sharing her experiences at national Parkinson’s conferences and with Parkinson’s support groups, Lazzarini helps raise funds for new research into the disease’s treatment and eradication. As a blogger for Psychology Today, the Michael J. Fox Foundation, the American Parkinson Disease Association, and her own website, she continues her quest to provide hope, support, and information to others affected by the disease.