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Prominent Alzheimer’s disease researcher joins McKnight Brain Institute, department of neurology

Steven T. DeKosky, M.D., an international leader in Alzheimer’s disease research, has been named deputy director of the Evelyn F. and William L. McKnight Brain Institute of the University of Florida and a professor of neurology in the College of Medicine.

A UF alumnus, DeKosky is known around the world as an expert in translational research, which leverages basic scientific findings to produce new treatments for patients. DeKosky brings much more to UF than expertise in Alzheimer’s disease research and clinical trials, said Tetsuo Ashizawa, M.D., executive director of the McKnight Brain Institute. DeKosky’s experience as a medical school administrator and his experience serving on National Institutes of Health councils as well as central nervous system advisory councils for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will benefit the entire state, Ashizawa said.

“He’s one of the key people who will lead the next decade of problem solving in the United States on brain aging disorders. His presence and influence will be substantial,” Ashizawa said.

DeKosky is an emeritus professor of neurology at the University of Virginia and holds an adjunct appointment in neurology at the University of Pittsburgh, where he previously served as director of its Alzheimer’s disease center and chairman of the neurology department. Most recently he was a visiting professor of radiology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and a visiting professor in the department of medical ethics and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine. From 2008 to 2013, he was vice president and dean of the University of Virginia School of Medicine.

“As a distinguished investigator and clinician who has extensive experience in cultivating research teams, Dr. DeKosky will no doubt spark interdisciplinary science and patient care at UF Health,” said David S. Guzick, M.D., Ph.D., senior vice president for health affairs at UF and president of UF Health. “The breadth and depth of his leadership and expertise in the evaluation and treatment of cognitive decline, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease will greatly benefit the institute and UF as a whole.”

His research has focused on understanding the neurochemistry, genetics, neuroimaging, treatment and prevention of Alzheimer’s disease. He was funded continuously in basic and clinical research by the NIH for more than 30 years. DeKosky was the principal investigator in the clinical application of Pittsburgh Compound B, or PiB, a groundbreaking imaging agent invented by colleagues at Pitt. PiB enables visualization of the plaque associated with Alzheimer’s disease and aids in definitive diagnosis. He also authored the first report of the dementia associated with traumatic brain injuries among professional football players.

Additionally, DeKosky has been appointed to or led many review and advisory committees for the NIH, was a national board member and vice chairman of the Alzheimer’s Association, and also served as a member and vice president of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology.

DeKosky said returning to Gainesville is a way to give back to his alma mater. A longtime Gators fan, DeKosky said he has always been deeply grateful to the university where he did graduate work in psychology and neuroscience, received a medical degree in 1974 and completed a residency in neurology. UF Health and the McKnight Brain Institute offered a unique opportunity to keep working on Alzheimer’s and neurodegenerative disease research, expand the number of clinical trials and coordinate research efforts among various departments and institutes.

“Being able to bring people together is one of my major assignments, along with specifically trying to advance research on Alzheimer’s disease,” he said.

With about one out of every 10 Alzheimer’s disease patients living in Florida, both UF and the state are ripe for more research activity, said Todd Golde, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Center for Translational Research in Neurodegenerative Disease and a professor of neuroscience in the College of Medicine. DeKosky’s experience running clinical trials and his work with Alzheimer’s disease imaging does more than raise the visibility of the College of Medicine and the McKnight Brain Institute, according to Golde. DeKosky will bring a coordinated clinical presence in the areas of dementia and traumatic brain injury and could improve the chances of landing one of the NIH’s prestigious Alzheimer’s disease research centers.

“From the clinical to the administrative side, he brings a lot of expertise, experience and capability to us,” Golde said. “He’s a prominent figure in the field.”

He’ll also be very busy when he arrives on July 1. In addition to his primary appointment in the department of neurology, DeKosky will be working with the College of Medicine’s department of health outcomes and policy, department of psychiatry and the Institute on Aging on topics related to Alzheimer’s disease.

That DeKosky would take on such a big challenge doesn’t surprise Michael S. Okun, M.D., a professor and interim chairman of the department of neurology and co-director of the Center for Movement Disorders and Neurorestoration. Okun said he first met DeKosky 15 years ago, and DeKosky still has the same energy, enthusiasm and passion for improving the lives of Alzheimer’s disease patients.

“Our plan is to blow the lid off Alzheimer’s disease research and make some great discoveries and bring them to patients,” Okun said.

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Doug Bennett
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