In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

September 25, 2014

If you hum a few bars …

By In the Loop

GuitarPlayer760Clifford Jack, M.D., is best known for his work in Alzheimer's disease research – specifically brain imaging research in cognitive aging. But as a recent article in the journal The Lancet points out, his career could have gone in a different direction. Bit by the music bug early on, he began playing jazz guitar at age 12 and got his first professional music gig while in high school. But Dr. Jack tells us that he was also realistic about where his budding musical career was going. "I never seriously considered it as a career, just a hobby," he says. But as The Lancet notes he's plucked out a pretty good career as a hobbyist entertaining audiences over the past 25 years at The Redwood Room in Rochester.

Thankfully for Mayo Clinic, and those living with Alzheimer's disease, he had a pretty good "Plan B." Dr. Jack tells The Lancet that he was largely inspired by an uncle who "seemed to get the most enjoyment out of his job" -- working as a doctor. And so, with a natural love and curiosity for science, Dr. Jack says "it seemed pretty natural" for him to follow his uncle's lead.

That's worked out pretty well so far, as The Lancet notes that Dr. Jack's work "using MRI to show that hippocampal atrophy is a marker of Alzheimer's disease" along with his "schematic depictions of the sequence and timing of imaging and biomarker changes in Alzheimer's disease" have become "some of the most widely shown slides at conferences on Alzheimer's disease." So much so that Nick Fox of University College London tells The Lancet they've become known as "Jack curves."

Naming rights aside, the journal reports that Dr. Jack helped make another "observation with important implications for our understanding of Alzheimer's disease pathology" when he discovered that "while the rate of change with MRI correlated very well with the rate of cognitive deterioration in dementia," the same could not be said for "the rate of cognitive change and the rate of change in amyloid PET." That observation "led to our publication in 2010 of the hypothetical model of Alzheimer's biomarkers," Dr. Jack says. His colleague Prashanthi Vemuri, Ph.D., tells The Lancet that this "Jack biomarker model," as it's come to be known, has helped researchers better understand the "underlying biomarker mechanisms" of Alzheimer's disease, which she believes will eventually lead to "the right therapeutic target and the right time at which Alzheimer's disease pathology can be targeted."

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Tags: Alzheimer's Disease, Dr. Clifford Jack, Dr. Prashanthi Vemuri, Employee Stories, Research News

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