Dr. Leonard Berg, acclaimed researcher, dies at age 79

BY ROBERT A. COHN

EDITOR-IN-CHIEF EMERITUS

Dr. Leonard Berg, internationally acclaimed for his breakthrough research on Alzheimer’s disease, and founder of one of the world’s leading research centers at Washington University in St. Louis, died Monday, Jan. 15, 2007, after suffering a stroke. He was 79 and a resident of Clayton at the time of his passing.

Dr. Berg, a clinical neurologist, has been widely praised for his development of a test that distinguishes early symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease from normal aging, known as the Clinical Dementia Rating. Dr. John C. Morris, director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at Washington University, who succeeded Dr. Berg as center director when he retired in 1997, was quoted by Tina Hesman Saey in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch as saying that the Rating “is now the worldwide standard for diagnosing the presence and severity of the disease.”

Building upon his early work, Dr. Berg launched the Memory and Aging Project, which tracked more than 3,000 volunteers for over 30 years. That breakthrough study helped researchers to recognize that Alzheimer’s disease begins to attack the brain decades before people show symptoms such as memory loss and other evidence of dementia or decline of mental function.

Morris, in his interview with the Post-Dispatch, called Dr. Berg “a pioneer” who not only possessed the medical skills for his work, but possessed “an engaging personality (which) helped to cement ties among 10 Alzheimer’s disease research centers established by the National Institute of Aging. The collaboration fostered by Dr. Berg was credited for preventing “turf battles” and competition for funds among “isolated pockets” from slowing the progress of the research. Morris added, in the same interview, “People were just drawn to him. He is the reason this is a community of Alzheimer’s researchers.”

Berg, a native of St. Louis, was born on July 17, 1927. He graduated from high school at the age of 15, and by the time he was 22 had completed both college and medical school at Washington University. Morris notes that Dr. Berg worked his way through college and medical school playing the clarinet and saxophone.

Dr. Berg was also praised by Dr. David Holtzman, head of the department of neurology at Washington University, who told the Post-Dispatch, “He was sort of a legend to me. The work we’re doing now is a reflection of what he started.”

Dr. Berg was a member of the American Medical Association, the American Neurological Association, the Society for Neuroscience and the Society for Experimental Pathology. Among many leadership positions he held in his profession were terms as president of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology and chairman of the Missouri State Advisory Committee on Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders. He was also chairman of the national Alzheimer’s Association Medical and Scientific Advisory Council.

Survivors include his wife of nearly 59 years, Gerry Berg; two daughters, Kathy Berg and Nancy Berg, both of St. Louis; a son, John Berg of St. Louis, and one grandchild. Dr. Morris also praised Dr. Berg for his dedication and devotion to his family.

A private family service and burial were held for Dr. Berg. Plans for a later public memorial service are pending. Memorial contributions may be made to the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center. Call 314-286-2881 for more information, or send contributions to ADRC-WUSTL, 4488 Forest Park Avenue, St. Louis, Mo. 63108.

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