The USF College of Public Health’s Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics bids two faculty members adieu as they take their vast experience and research in Alzheimer’s disease to the nation’s west coast.
Although they both have been granted professor emeritus status, they don’t have plans to slow down.
“I hope to have a fairly broad life in retirement; broad intellectually,” Mortimer said. “I’d be bored to death if I just watched TV all day. There are some concrete things we want to do.”
Of utmost interest for the pair is continuing their research on Alzheimer’s.
They plan to create an Alzheimer’s research and prevention site in southern California to assess an individual’s risk for the disease and place them on a prevention program designed to reduce risk of developing it in the future.
“I can’t stress enough how important Alzheimer’s disease research is for our public health system and for providers, families and the people themselves,” Borenstein said.
They also plan to release a book making information about Alzheimer’s disease more accessible to the public.
The book will be a layman’s version of their recently published book, “Alzheimer’s Disease: Life Course Perspectives on Risk Reduction,” according to Borenstein.
Released Feb. 2016, the book summarizes the many years of research the pair have been on the front end of collecting and the main findings regarding one’s risk for developing the disease.
“It’s a culmination of our entire careers,” Mortimer said. “We’ve been looking at protective and risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease for 40 years and during that time we made lots of discoveries, and other people made lots of discoveries as well. So, we wanted to put this in a book so that people would understand that Alzheimer’s disease is a lifelong disease.”
Both have been involved in numerous studies paving the way in Alzheimer’s research, of which they are both proud.
“Alzheimer’s research is about 30 years behind heart disease research I would say and in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, it was heart disease, heart disease, heart disease,” Borenstein said. “Alzheimer’s was kind of like the stepchild that nobody talked about and now people are talking about it, which is great. It sort of entered the public consciousness now and people understand it’s a really important disease. Being part of that field and watching it develop for more than 30 years, I’ve been able to be on board to watch it develop to not knowing anything about it to knowing a lot about it. Now, there’s more of the ‘devil in the details’ – the big picture we understand a lot better. So, that was really exciting to be on the forefront of that science.”
Mortimer’s research, the Swedish Twin Study of Dementia conducted in 1996, led him to the discovery that Alzheimer’s disease is 80 percent genetically mediated, meaning family history is a principal factor for developing the disease. He also discovered that one’s head size and education were factors in the prevention of the disease.
“You get the genes at conception and it’s a very slow tedious disease that you go through your life with and it either wins or it doesn’t win,” Mortimer said. “It’s a lifelong disease; you have signs of the disease when you’re in your early 20s.”
They both said the most enjoyable memory of their time at COPH will be working with the students.
“Especially the PhD students and MSPH students, they appreciate research a lot and that’s what they want to do. Being a mentor has been really important to me,” Borenstein said.
While their time at COPH may be coming to an end, Mortimer said their emeritus status will keep them in touch with academia, despite being more than 2,000 miles away.
He said he looks to the future and his plans to continue researching Alzheimer’s, recalling his favorite motto: “Every picture tells a story,” inspired by Rod Stewart.
“You can’t just be prejudiced and believe you know everything. Every time you see something new it tells you a story,” he said. “If you don’t listen to the story, you’ll never progress in science.”
Story by Anna Mayor, USF College of Public Health.