November 21, 2005 — One of the world’s leading neurologists in Alzheimer’s disease imaging and treatment has joined the University of Utah to establish the Intermountain West’s first academic Alzheimer’s clinic and to become an investigator with the University’s new Brain Institute.
Norman L. Foster, M.D., an expert in PET imaging (positron emission tomography), started Aug. 1 as a professor of neurology in the U School of Medicine. Early next year, Foster, who comes from the University of Michigan Medical School, will open the department’s Center for Alzheimer’s Care, Imaging, and Research, a clinic to treat Alzheimer’s patients, conduct brain imaging research, and serve as a teaching facility for doctors and other health care workers. The clinic will be located in the U of U’s Research Park.
The Intermountain West and Utah are projected to have the country’s largest increase in dementia in the next 20 years, according to Foster; so the time to establish an Alzheimer’s research and treatment clinic couldn’t be better. That prospect and the opportunity to join the Brain Institute at the University of Utah as one of its first investigators were strong incentives for Foster to come to the U of U.
“This was an excellent opportunity to design a program for the 21st Century,” he said. “We hope to widely influence dementia care in the Intermountain area.”
At Michigan, Foster served as professor of neurology and director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Program. He also was principal investigator at Michigan for the Alzheimer’s Disease Cooperative Study, a national trial to evaluate dementia drugs.
This isn’t Foster’s first time living in Utah; he served his residency in neurology at the University from 1978-81.
A. Lorris Betz, M.D., Ph.D., senior vice president for health sciences and executive dean of the medical school, said as the U of U launches its Brain Institute, Foster has come at an auspicious time.
“Dr. Foster is an immensely talented and dedicated physician and scientist and he will make a tremendous contribution to the Brain Institute’s collaborative approach to research,” Betz said. “I have no doubt his work will greatly benefit Alzheimer’s patients in Utah and beyond.”
Thomas N. Parks, Ph.D., professor and chair of neurobiology and anatomy and executive director of the Brain Institute, sees Foster’s appointments as a vote of confidence in the new endeavor. Brain imaging will be a key component of the institute’s research, and attracting top researchers in the field has been a priority.
“The fact that he’s coming here says a lot about the opportunities for clinical and basic brain research,” Parks said. “He really is an outstanding addition to the University’s neuroscience community.”
The Brain Institute at the University of Utah is a collaborative research program dedicated to helping decipher the mysteries of what many call the last frontier in human biology: the brain. From molecules to circuits to behavior, U researchers will study the brain to understand the complex and mysterious processes that underlie human thought and consciousness, as well as neurological diseases. The Institute will include researchers in neurology, computer science, bioengineering, radiology, nuclear medicine, and numerous other areas.
The Alzheimer’s clinic will draw on the expertise of people from many of those same disciplines, Foster said, and research conducted there will complement that of the Brain Institute. Funded by a $2.7 million startup gift from a donor who wishes to remain anonymous and University Hospital, the clinic is expected to be fully operational in about two years. Along with Foster, two other neurologists specializing in dementia will staff the clinic.
John E. Greenlee, M.D., professor and chair of neurology, said Foster’s research and patient care will have an important impact on dementia care in Utah.
“Dr. Foster is recognized worldwide as an expert in Alzheimer’s disease,” Greenlee said. “He has a truly comprehensive view of Alzheimer’s disease as both a clinical and scientific problem. Beyond this, he is known as an individual who treats his patients-and their caregivers-with great compassion.”
An estimated 15 percent of people over age 65 have dementia, with one-third of them suffering moderate to severe dementia, meaning they need daily assistance to function. The occurrence of dementia increases markedly with age and is estimated to affect up to one-half of people older than 85.
As the U.S. population ages, dementia is expected to become an even larger health issue nationwide. The number of people with dementia is expected to reach 5 million by 2010, and up to 16 million people by 2050, according to Foster.
In the next 20 years, the Intermountain West is projected to have the largest increase in the number of people with dementia. In Utah, dementia is expected to increase between 70 percent and more than 125 percent by 2050, according to Foster.
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