Ron Peterson

Alzheimer's Research

A clinician, investigator, educator on Alzheimer's disease Ron Petersen is currently conducting a multidisciplinary study of various aspects of aging, mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's disease. The research is designed to develop models for predicting a subsequent cognitive impairment in normal elderly persons, potentially to guide early treatment. Dr. Petersen was Ronald Reagan's personal physician and treated the former President's Alzheimer's. Dr. Petersen is one of the recipients of the 2004 MetLife Award for Medical Research in Alzheimer's Disease and the 2005 Potamkin Prize for Research in Picks, Alzheimer's, and Related Disorders of the American Academy of Neurology.

Self Exam

  • Occupation: Neurologist, clinical research scientist.
  • Alternative career choice: Teacher.
  • Musical Instrument I Play: Radio.
  • I tend to approach life: Anticipation and hope for the future.
  • Biggest misconceptions about me or my work: That we have all the answers.
  • Worst part-time job ever: Census information gathering, door-to-door.
  • Longest med school study session: The entire four years—I was a slow learner.
  • Best moment in medicine/research: Diagnosing and curing a patient with a cognitive disorder.


Personal Letter: Ronald C. Petersen, Ph.D., M.D.

I had an early interest in studying how memory functions in the brain. My early training was in graduate school in the area of cognitive neuroscience and was dedicated to understanding how people learn and retain common experiences. I was then able to transfer this work to a laboratory setting in which various drugs were studied with respect to their effects on learning and memory. This work was done in a biomedical research laboratory, and basic features of cognitive function were studied using drugs that impair and improve learning and memory. After working in this area for close to a decade, it became apparent that if I were to continue this work, I would need training as a physician. Consequently, I then entered medical school and gravitated toward the field of neurology. Within neurology, I felt that the most appropriate expression of my background and interests in cognitive function would involve studying Alzheimer’s disease. As such, my study of Alzheimer’s disease is the culmination of my previous training in cognitive neuroscience and pharmacology. While it is difficult for me to recommend this path to any individual, the excitement of learning new ways to detect illness and find cures in the laboratory is constantly stimulating. As such, I would encourage young, inquiring minds to consider studying the frontiers of the brain. While we have learned a great deal over the past several decades regarding brain function, there is much more that needs to be discovered. Some of the most devastating illnesses in mankind are expressed in the brain, and it is absolutely vital that the next generation of scientists attack and solve these problems.

Mayo Clinic Alzheimer’s Disease Research Team
Ronald C. Petersen, Ph.D., M.D., Director

The Mayo Clinic group of investigators studying Alzheimer’s disease is comprised of basic scientists and clinicians. The basic scientists have isolated important genes that alter the risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease and have developed important animal models to test the efficacy of certain drugs. The team has also worked on blood tests that may predict who is likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease in the future. On the therapeutic side, viruses have been used to deliver novel therapeutics to the brain in an attempt to prevent or delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. On the clinical side, researchers have been involved in establishing criteria for the earliest detection of individuals who are at risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease. Neuroimaging experts have developed new protocols for MRI scanning, PET scanning, and the detection of molecular features in the brains of people who are destined to develop Alzheimer’s disease. This talented research team is capable of studying the entire landscape of the disease from basic causes to future therapies. This type of investigation is called translational research since it RON PETERSEN, M.D. is designed to take the findings in the basic science laboratory and apply them to individual patients. There is a great deal of interaction among the members of the Mayo research team to bring about these discoveries.

Mayo Clinic Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center
Ronald C. Petersen, Ph.D., M.D., Director

The Mayo Clinic Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center (ADRC) is one of 29 research centers in the U.S. sponsored by the National Institute on Aging. The Mayo ADRC functions in Rochester, Minnesota, and Jacksonville, Florida. In addition, the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Arizona participates in the Arizona Alzheimer’s Disease Center. Research on Alzheimer’s disease at Mayo covers the entire spectrum from genetic predispositions, basic mechanisms of disease, animal models and drug development, to the clinical characterization of the earliest presentation of the disease, neuroimaging, and clinical trials. This research is designed to detect individuals who are at risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease with the intention of intervening as early as possible. The work at Mayo has focused on the clinical construct of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) as the earliest manifestation of the clinical features of what might become clinically diagnosed Alzheimer’s disease. These individuals typically have a memory impairment beyond what would be expected for age, but are otherwise functioning in a normal fashion. This work has led to the detection of biomarkers, neuroimaging tests, and potential treatments for early Alzheimer’s disease. The Mayo Alzheimer’s disease research team involves over 20 investigators who are dedicated to determining the cause of the disease and developing treatments for it.