Alzheimer's Disease Education and Referral Center

In Memoriam: Robert Katzman, M.D.

April 15, 2009


The Alzheimer's disease (AD) research community lost a legendary figure and guiding light on September 16, 2008, when Dr. Robert Katzman, 82, died at his home in La Jolla, CA, after a long illness. He was professor emeritus of neurosciences and former chair of the Department of Neurosciences at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine. From 1964 to 1984, he was chair of neurology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. He retired from UC San Diego in 2002.

Dr. Katzman was founding director of the NIA-funded Shiley-Marcos Alzheimer's Disease Research Center at UC San Diego, one of the original members of the NIA's National Advisory Council on Aging, and a founder of the Alzheimer's Association.

Before Dr. Katzman's work on AD began in the 1960s, little time and money were spent on AD research and therapy. Many researchers and clinicians regarded AD as an interesting but rare form of "presenile dementia," mainly occurring in people under age 65. They believed that dementia in people over 65, termed "senile dementia," is mainly a product of aging, not disease. Some of these beliefs echoed the early conclusions of Dr. Alois Alzheimer, the German scientist who originally described AD in 1906.

Dr. Katzman and his longtime collaborator, Dr. Robert Terry, changed these mistaken notions. During 3 decades of work, they demonstrated that most cases diagnosed as senile dementia were, in fact, AD. These findings redefined AD as a "major killer" and mounting public health threat.

In 1976, Dr. Katzman published a landmark editorial, The Prevalence and Malignancy of Alzheimer's Disease, in Archives of Neurology. In 1977, Drs. Katzman and Terry organized the first national conference on AD, sponsored in part by the NIA. These efforts led to a boom in basic research and clinical trials on AD.

"We owe Dr. Katzman a tremendous debt of gratitude," said NIA Director Dr. Richard Hodes. "He performed groundbreaking research and provided spirited advocacy on Alzheimer's disease. His accomplishments helped to realign attitudes about Alzheimer's, clarify its pervasiveness, and substantially increase the attention paid to this disease by scientists, clinicians, funding organizations, and the public."

Dr. Katzman received many accolades and awards during his career. Among these was the prestigious Potamkin Prize for Research in Pick's, Alzheimer's, and Related Diseases, awarded in 1994 by the American Academy of Neurology.

Dr. Claudia Kawas, University of California, Irvine, a long-time colleague, adds: "Dr. Katzman was known for his integrity, his generosity and his leadership. As a mentor and friend, he inspired and influenced the careers of many who continue in the fight against Alzheimer's disease. The gap he leaves in the field of Alzheimer's disease, and personally for his many family, friends and colleagues, will be profound."

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