December 21, 2010

Professor Mark Smith, Leading Alzheimer's Expert, Leaves a Legacy of Discovery and Service

Mark Smith
Mark A. Smith

Professor Mark A. Smith, a renowned Alzheimer’s disease researcher and revered mentor and colleague, died early Sunday morning after being struck by a car in Bainbridge Township.

“Mark Smith’s passion for scientific discovery was matched by his complete dedication to students and colleagues,” President Barbara R. Snyder said. “His death is a tragedy for his field, for Case Western Reserve and, most of all, for his family. We extend our deepest sympathies to all who are grieving this terrible loss.”

Professor Smith, 45, earned his undergraduate and doctorate degrees in England and then spent two years as a research fellow in Austria. He joined Case Western Reserve in 1994, launching an academic career that quickly drew attention and accolades. Smith’s work focused on understanding how and why neurons cease to function in cases of neurodegenerative diseases. He published more than 800 peer-reviewed articles, and his work was cited more than 21,000 times. In 2007, he was named as the 21st most-cited author (of 3,170) in the fields of neuroscience and behavior over the previous 10 years. In 2009, he was named the No. 3 Alzheimer's investigator in the world in a study published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease.

Early in his career Professor Smith twice won the Ruth Salta Junior Investigator Achievement Award from the American Health Assistance Foundation, becoming the first individual ever to receive the honor more than once. He went on to receive several other honors from organizations focused on aging neurochemistry and Alzheimer’s disease. This year he won the 2011 American Society for Investigative Pathology Outstanding Investigator Award, which honors mid-career investigators who have demonstrated excellence in research in experimental pathology. He also received the 2011 Goudie Lecture and Medal, presented to a distinguished active scientist who is making seminal contributions to pathological science and the understanding of disease mechanisms.

Professor Smith always followed the lessons of his own research, even when this approach put him at odds with other leaders in the field. This summer Forbes dubbed him a “renegade researcher” because of his disagreement with those who felt that the best way to slow Alzheimer’s would be to block a particular kind of protein plaque. Yet the magazine also credited him with predicting the failure of a major drug trial two years before its demise; Professor Smith had argued that the protein was a symptom of the disease, and possibly even a protective response, rather than a source of neurological problems. In essence, his thesis was that Alzheimer’s is a complex disease whose cure demands an equally sophisticated response—an opinion gaining increasing credence within the scientific community. Professor Smith was an editor-in-chief of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, executive director of the American Aging Association, and a fellow of the Royal College of Fellows and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Along with this international recognition, Professor Smith also earned multiple campus awards for teaching and mentoring.  In 2009, he received the J. Bruce Jackson, M.D., Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Mentoring, one of the highest University honors given to a member of the faculty.

“I have never met a professor who is more personally invested in the success and best interest of his students," his nominator wrote at the time. “Dr. Smith seems to effortlessly walk the fine line between providing strong guidance and allowing room for independent discovery…  His teaching style has never made me feel overwhelmed, while, at the same time, he consistently pushes me to do my very best work.”

Professor Smith’s advocacy also extended to his faculty colleagues. Most recently he served as chair of the Faculty Council in the School of Medicine and chair of the Faculty Senate’s Committee on Faculty Compensation. In the latter role, Professor Smith worked closely with Provost W.A. “Bud” Baeslack III.

“Mark was an extremely thoughtful and professional colleague,” Provost Baeslack said. “He worked tirelessly to advance the best interests of faculty, and did so in a manner that earned the respect of the entire administration. I will miss working with him.”

Professor Smith is survived by his wife, Gemma Casadesus, an assistant professor of neurosciences, and his sons, Luke and William. Funeral arrangements are still being finalized and will be published in the Daily when they are complete. The university also will hold a memorial service for Professor Smith in January.

Posted by: Emily Mayock, December 21, 2010 09:51 AM | News Topics: Faculty

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