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February 2009 Issue

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Ohio Native Returns to Serve as Neurology's New Endowed Chair for Alzheimer's Disease

Published February 2009

If Brendan Kelley, MD, had stayed with his undergraduate majors, he might have become the scientific world’s foremost authority on Russian literature.

Fortunately for the University of Cincinnati—and the study of Alzheimer’s disease—Kelley developed a passion for medicine that has led him to an appointment as UC’s Endowed Chair in the Research and Education of Alzheimer’s Disease.

He began his duties in this newly created position within the neurology department in September 2008.
A native of Euclid, Ohio, Kelley graduated from Ohio State University summa cum laude in both physics and Russian literature, going on to earn a master’s degree in physics from Cornell University.

“While in graduate school, I realized medicine was my true calling, and I returned to Ohio State for medical school,” he says. Now he’s returning to Ohio again, this time after completing two fellowships in neurology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., to occupy the endowed chair made possible by anonymous donors and established at the $1.5 million level.

“We are terrifically excited about having Dr. Kelley as part of our neurology department and the UC Neuroscience Institute,” says Joseph Broderick, MD, chair of neurology and co-medical director of the Neuroscience Institute. “He will help address one of the critical health issues for our community now and into the future.

“I also can’t say enough about our donors, whose generosity made the recruitment of Dr. Kelley a reality and whose continued support bodes well for growth of the program.”

“I’m a native of Ohio, and I feel a strong connection to the region,” Kelley says. “But many other things lured me here as well. “The neurology department is very strong, and Joe Broderick has done a fantastic job of providing leadership to grow this as an up-and-coming department of neurology.

“I interviewed all around the country, and I was struck by the level of commitment at UC. The potential to grow an excellent program here is outstanding.”

Kelley has been building a foundation in his short time here, focusing on community education about Alzheimer’s disease in addition to treatment and research. “My aim is to meet an important need in the Greater Cincinnati area,” he says.

Conservative estimates suggest that 4 million people in the United States have Alzheimer’s disease, a progressive, degenerative disease of the brain that generally affects older adults. It is estimated that the number of people with Alzheimer’s will climb to 14 million by 2030.

“Our health care system struggles to meet the needs of those 4 million who have Alzheimer’s disease now. If we fail to address this as an impending health care disaster, the system will be swamped,” says Kelley.

“The development of medications to significantly slow the progression of the disease will play an important role in addressing this potential crisis.”

Currently, no such medication exists that is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Existing medicines address the symptoms of Alzheimer’s but don’t slow the underlying disease course.

Encouragingly, more than 100 medications are in development, Kelley says, many of them targeted at the disease itself.
“This is one of the reasons why it’s so exciting to be establishing a behavioral neurology program at this time,” he says. “With so many medicines in the pipeline, I think in the very foreseeable future that we will have medications that address those pathological changes with Alzheimer’s disease.”

Kelley says he will be focusing on clinical research, particularly multicenter clinical trials of agents that show great promise in modifying the disease course of Alzheimer’s. He’s also interested in research on identifying people early in the course of Alzheimer’s, at a stage where intervention can be particularly effective.
“Those two research aims dovetail nicely,” he says. “If we have medication to slow or stop the progression of Alzheimer’s and we can identify people early, that could really ameliorate the impact of the graying of the U.S. population.”

Kelley expects to conduct clinical trials at University Hospital, University Pointe and the Lindner Center of HOPE, and will also be seeing patients clinically at those three locations. He plans to coordinate those activities with those of the Greater Cincinnati Alzheimer’s Association and other community organizations, building on their traditions of addressing the needs of patients and their families.

He envisions UC playing a pivotal role in coordinating an organized effort to combat Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.

Ultimately, Kelley would like to establish an Alzheimer’s center within the UC Neuroscience Institute, which already has centers devoted to brain tumors, epilepsy, functional neuroscience, Parkinson’s disease and movement disorders, neurotrauma, cerebrovascular disease and stroke, and multiple sclerosis.

“My goal is to develop this as a program and an identifiable center of excellence within the university,” he says.

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