Dr. Leon Thal, one of the world’s leading researchers on Alzheimer’s disease and the head of the National Insitute on Aging’s (NIA) clinical trials consortium, the Alzheimer’s Disease Cooperative Study (ADCS), died Saturday, February 3, in a fatal airplane accident near San Diego, his home. Dr. Thal was chairman of the neurosciences department at the University of California San Diego and also director of the NIA-supported Shiley-Marcos Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center there. He recently completed a tour as a member of NIA's National Advisory Council on Aging.
"The loss of Dr. Thal is a devastating blow to the Alzheimer’s research community," said NIA Director Richard Hodes. "Beyond his exceptional talents as a scientist, he was a wonderful human being of extraordinary wisdom and energy and a deeply caring clinician. His tragic and sudden loss is very difficult for us all to comprehend, and we will miss him in many ways."
Thal’s entire career was devoted to the study of aging and dementia. Over the past three decades, he achieved a remarkable body of research productivity that includes more than 300 peer-reviewed papers. One of the world’s leading investigators engaged in development of new therapies for Alzheimer’s disease, his efforts contributed significantly to the world’s understanding of the cause, prevention and treatment of AD and related disorders. He directed more than $100 million in federally funded research grants, and was a collaborator on many others.
As director of the ADCS since its inception in 1991, Thal led a consortium of more than 70 research centers around the United States and Canada. Established to test drugs for their effectiveness in slowing down the progression or treating the symptoms of AD, as well as to investigate new methods for conducting dementia research, the ADCS was recently awarded $52 million by NIA to continue its work. More than 4,600 people have participated in these studies.
In recognition of his career accomplishments and leadership in the field of Alzheimer’s research, he was awarded The Potamkin Prize, one of the nation’s highest honors in dementia research, in 2004. In presenting the award, the American Academy of Neurology recognized Thal’s “outstanding achievements in research of Alzheimer’s and related neurodegenerative diseases.”