Alzheimer's Disease & Brain Function Research
Modernized measurement of brain function in major neurological diseases like Alzheimer's Jeffrey Cummings is an innovator in the measurement of brain function and developed the Neuropsychiatric Inventory, one of the most comprehensive procedures now widely used in clinical trials around the world. His work has helped to standardize how brain function affects behavior and quality of life, advancing our understanding of neurological diseases, like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, and helping to accelerate drug development.
- Occupation: Neurologist.
- Alternative career choice: Architect.
- Musical Instrument I Play: Drums.
- I tend to approach life: With a sense of happy expectation.
- Biggest misconceptions about me or my work: Working with pharmaceutical companies (necessary to advance new treatments for Alzheimer's disease) compromises one's integrity.
- Worst part-time job ever: Dishwasher.
- Longest med school study session: 22 hours of anatomy.
- Best moment in medicine/research: One of my students said the following: "The best Neurologist in my home country knows all the world's literature on neurology; the best Neurologist in your program is the one who is contributing new knowledge to our understanding of the brain and brain disease."
Dr. Cummings (“Jeff”) is a Neurologist, trained in Boston and London, who now directs the Mary S. Easton Center for Alzheimer’s Disease Research. He leads a team of scientists who are unraveling the secrets of how Alzheimer’s disease kills cells to produce memory loss and developing answers in how to cure this devastating disease. Some team members study the toxic protein that causes Alzheimer’s, others develop and test therapies in mice genetically engineered to develop Alzheimer’s, while another group tests drugs in clinical trials involving patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. Jeffrey Cummings receiving the 2008 Ronald and Nancy Reagan Research Award from the national Alzheimer’s Association. Some scientists are working on brain scans to help doctors identify Alzheimer’s disease when it is still very mild and on developing tests that may someday comprise a “blood test for Alzheimer’s disease.” Jeff has developed a test that uses a specific interview technique to assess the behavioral changes that occur in some Alzheimer patients (agitation, depression). In recognition of his work, he received the 2008 Ronald and Nancy Reagan Research Award from the national Alzheimer’s Association.
The two most rewarding things about being an Alzheimer’s disease doctor-researcher are discovering new knowledge (bringing new information into the world that no one ever knew before) and working with families and patients to try to ease the burden of Alzheimer’s disease. Jeff finds the excitement of working to develop new treatments for Alzheimer’s disease—combining the two things he likes most about the field—an exhilarating joy. He frequently consults with government agencies and pharmaceutical companies to help decide on how best to test new drugs for Alzheimer’s disease.
From Jeff’s perspective, the best thing about an academic life is the fantastic combination of working with patients and families, being an architect of new knowledge that will someday help to eradicate Alzheimer’s disease, working with the human brain and all its magical complexity, interacting with smart, motivated people, and traveling around the world to meet scientists and clinicians that share his enthusiasms.
Another unique aspect of being the director of an Alzheimer’s Disease Center is the opportunity to interact with philanthropists who donate money to support research. Jeff describes his profound gratitude for those who give small amounts—perhaps a lot for a limited budget— and those who give very generously (Jim Easton, Sidell-Kagan Foundation, Lincy Foundation, John Douglas French Alzheimer’s Research Foundation, Katie Edelman-Johnson, Larry Delpit, Brotman Foundation, Tichi Wilkerson-Kassel Parkinson’s Research Foundation, and others). “These individuals realize the need we have for funding and come forward to support our research; we could not advance some of our most creative projects without their support,” says Jeff.
The combination of donor funding, federal funding from the National Institute on Aging, and funding from the State of California (Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center of California) makes it possible to build the team that is unlocking the mysteries of Alzheimer’s disease. The Easton Center partners with the Alzheimer’s Association and the Leeza’s Places (of the Leeza Gibbons Memory Foundation) to insure that caregivers get the support they need.
Jeff also directs the Deane F. Johnson Center for Neurotherapeutics, a unique resource that supports clinical trials for all neurological diseases. Jeff derives special satisfaction from directing a program that may help bring relief to patients with many types of brain, spinal cord, and nerve diseases.