After a recent meeting of the UNLV School of Medicine Community Engagement Board, one of the board members, Dr. Jeffrey Cummings, couldn’t have been much more upbeat.
“We’ve already got two UNLV medical students doing research with us and it won’t be long before we have students doing clinical rotations at our center and then residents and fellows as well —
I see robust interaction for the medical school and us around neuroscience,” said Cummings, the medical director of the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health.
What Cummings was talking about was music, of course, to the ears of Dr. Barbara Atkinson, founding dean of the medical school that soon will see its inaugural class of 60 students complete its first year.
“Strategic partnerships are so important to a medical school,” Atkinson said.
While a close association with the Cleveland Clinic, one of the best global brands in health care, is obviously a boon to the UNLV School of Medicine, Cummings sees the alliance as benefitting the Clinic’s $8 billion health system that has expanded into cities that include London, Abu Dhabi and Las Vegas.
“What I see happening here is that medical students and faculty will spin off ideas that become companies and enterprises —
it will grow the scientific part of the community and that’s good for all of us,” said Cummings, who was featured as a “Rockstar of Science” in the June 2009 edition of Gentleman’s Quarterly. “I see the medical school as an important way of not only producing more physicians for Nevada but also growing the science environment.”
When the Clinic’s Ruvo Center for Brain Health opened in Las Vegas in 2009, Cummings was its first director. A world-renowned Alzheimer’s researcher, he had been director of the Mary S. Easton Center for Alzheimer’s Disease Research at UCLA as well as past president of the Behavioral Neurology Society and the American Neuropsychiatric Association.
The highly respected Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease ranks Cummings as the sixth most prolific researcher of the wretched condition that robs people of memory, noting that his hundreds of papers are regularly cited by other scientists..
The author or editor of 39 books who has also published over 650 peer-reviewed papers, Cummings, 69, has decided to focus his energies solely on Alzheimer’s research beginning in May. Dr. Marwan Sabbagh, a neurologist at the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, will take over the administrative duties at the Ruvo Center.
Sabbagh, Cummings said, will take his place on the UNLV School of Medicine Community Engagement Board and be just as active as he was. “We want to be of any help we can to the community and medical school,” Cummings said.
Don’t expect Cummings to ever engage in a laid-back retirement where he lounges around with a TV remote. That passive lifestyle, he cautions, is increasingly seen by researchers as a high risk factor for Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia and a still incurable disease of the brain that causes the progressive degeneration of brain cells.
“We have a social idea of what retirement consists of and we need to re-examine that idea,” Cummings said. “The logical extension of the data we have on dementia is that a person who is still capable of working, who is mentally stimulated with a strong sense of purpose, is better off from the cognitive point of view continuing to engage in that position.”
Cummings remains hopeful that a way will be found to knock out Alzheimer’s, a disease that is expected to affect close to 16 million Americans by 2050, about double today’s number. He says the research could be done by graduates of the UNLV School of Medicine.
“At the Cleveland Clinic we think the medical school will advance medical knowledge based on research,” he said. “We’re looking forward to an improvement in the scientific environment here, to the passion needed for powerful scientific inquiry.”