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Leonard Berg, Alzheimer Disease Pioneer, Dies at 79

Leonard Berg, MD, the founder and former director of the Alzheimer's Disease Research Center at the Washington University School of Medicine, died of a stroke on Jan. 15, at the age of 79.


Dr. Leonard Berg

Dr. Berg, who was professor emeritus of neurology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, joined the medical school's voluntary faculty in 1955 while also working in private practice. He became a full-time professor of neurology in 1989 and moved his clinical practice into the medical school's neurology department, providing care at Barnes Hospital (now Barnes-Jewish Hospital), St. Louis Children's Hospital, St. Louis Shriner's Hospital for Crippled Children, and St. Louis Regional Hospital.

In the early 1970s, Dr. Berg initiated the medical school's Dementia Study Group, in which he developed a system to distinguish healthy aging from mild dementia. The National Institute of Mental Health awarded him a grant in 1979 to study both groups, conducting regular, detailed assessments of mental and physical health as the subjects grew older. Known as the Memory and Aging Project, the multidisciplinary study continues to this day, and has provided insights into subtle brain changes and disease-onset markers that may lead to effective treatment.

“The buzzword now at the NIH and around academia is translational research, but Leonard was doing cutting-edge translational research 30 years ago,” said David Holtzman, MD, the Andrew B. and Gretchen P. Jones Professor and head of the neurology department at Washington University. “I respected him as a physician-scientist as much as anyone I have known.”

In 1985, Berg established the Alzheimer's Disease Research Center (ADRC) at the medical school and Barnes Hospital. After he stepped down as director in 1997, the ADRC hosted a biennial Alzheimer research symposium in Dr. Berg's honor. He also developed the Clinical Dementia Rating, used worldwide to determine the stages of Alzheimer disease and the distinction between normal aging and mild Alzheimer disease.

Dr. Berg was a member of many medical associations, and served as president of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology in 1985, chairman of the Missouri State Advisory Board on Alzheimer's Disease and Related Disorders from 1988 to 1995, and chairman of the national Alzheimer's Association's Medical and Scientific Advisory Council from 1991 to 1995. He was also a member of the National Scientific Advisory Council of the American Federation for Aging Research for more than 10 years and served on a Congressional Advisory Panel on Alzheimer's Disease from 1993 to 1995.

Among awards he received were the Lifetime Achievement Award and the Public Service Award from the Alzheimer's Association, the Peter H. Raven Lifetime Award from the St. Louis Academy of Science, and the Washington University School of Medicine Second Century Award.

“Years ago, Leonard Berg was one of my best friends. We were residents together and we were at NIH together. He was a simply wonderful person and had a wonderful family,” said Lewis P. Rowland, MD, Editor-in-Chief of Neurology Today and professor of neurology at Columbia University.

Dr. Rowland recalled Dr. Berg's musical gift: “He worked his way through college and medical school by playing the clarinet in a band. He was as good as Benny Goodman, they said.”

Dr. Berg is survived by his wife of nearly 59 years, Gerry Berg; two daughters, Kathy and Nancy; son John, his wife, Christine, and their daughter, Katie. The family has asked that memorial donations be made to the Alzheimer's Disease Research Center. Call 286–2881 for more information or send to: ADRC-WUSTL, 4488 Forest Park Ave., Suite 130, St. Louis, MO, 63108.


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