Thursday, April 8, 2010 | 2:34 p.m.
Biology buff Dr. Charles Bernick, M.D., is a recognized leader in the field of neurology, having focused his professional efforts on the treatment, research and care of Alzheimer’s disease for more than 20 years. He launched his career in the field as the attending neurologist for the University of California, Davis Alzheimer’s Disease Diagnostic and Treatment Center.
Bernick relocated to Southern Nevada in 1994 to join the University of Nevada School of Medicine, and has since directed the development of a statewide network of Alzheimer’s disease care, with clinics in Las Vegas, Reno and Elko. The author of numerous scientific articles who has participated in studies of almost every medication now available for Alzheimer’s, Bernick has served as a grant reviewer and committee member for the national Alzheimer’s Association and is an active part in its medical and scientific committee.
He assumed his current position of associate medical director last year when Cleveland Clinic – one of America’s leading multi-specialty academic centers – and the Lou Ruvo Brain Institute collaborated to create the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, a locally based, highly specialized clinical center to advance the research, early detection and treatment of neurological diseases, including Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s, Parkinson’s and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis.
Originally a history major at Rice University – “It was the easiest major I could find” – Bernick realized as an undergraduate that he had a passion and knack for biological sciences, which he successfully directed toward the study of medicine. He graduated from Rice summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in biology. He went onto gain admission to the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School. It was here that neurology really clicked.
“First of all, the brain is where it’s at – it’s what makes humans ‘humans,’ ” said Bernick, adding that the field of neurology can be likened to a deductive science. “The nervous system is a very organized system, and your mission is to find where the problem is.”
Bernick admitted this could be daunting when it comes to Alzheimer’s disease, which – according to a 2010 report by the Alzheimer’s Association – afflicts some 5.3 million Americans and ranks as the seventh-leading cause of death. Some 29,000 of those individuals are Nevada residents, compared to 21,000 people in 2000. The figure is projected to increase to 35,000 by 2020 as Nevada’s population ages.
Bernick, who is responsible for establishing and maintaining a tele-health program that has provided rural Nevadans with dementia care, caregiver services and one-on-one virtual patient conferences, divides his time among patient care and research.
On the research side, “There are two real thrusts in the field of Alzheimer’s,” Bernick said, “and those are finding a means of early detection through spinal imaging of the brain or by looking for markers in the blood or spinal fluid, and also finding treatments that may delay the progression of the disease, and we are in a number of studies of new drugs to do just that. Are we going to cure Alzheimer’s disease in five years? Probably not. But I think we’re close, and we’ll be able to make a significant impact through early detection and disease modification.”