Chad Dickey, associate professor at the Byrd Alzheimer’s Institute at the University of South Florida, Tampa, passed away last Friday, November 25, after a short bout with cancer. “Chad was an incredible scientist who was just starting to shine, and he was a genuinely good person. He will be sorely missed by me and many who knew him,” said Leonard Petrucelli, Mayo Clinic, Jacksonville, Florida. Dickey had just turned 40 in July. Services will be held Friday, December 2, beginning at 10 a.m. at the Idlewild Baptist church in Lutz, Florida. 

Dickey worked with Petrucelli at the Mayo Clinic and before that with Dave Morgan at USF before setting up his own lab at the Mayo Clinic in 2004 and then at USF in 2006. Dickey studied the role of chaperones in proteostasis and in neurodegenerative diseases, particularly tauopathies. He found that heat shock protein 90 partners with co-chaperones to pull hyperphosphorylated tau from the mouth of the proteasome and then refold it into potentially toxic oligomers (see May 2007 newsSep 2013 news). More recently, Dickey and colleagues reported that the heat shock complex Hsc70/DnaJC5 guides misfolded proteins, including tau and α-synuclein, out of neurons, potentially contributing to their propagation throughout the brain (see Jun 2016 news). 

Chad Dickey and Donna Wilcock at AAIC 2015 in Washington, D.C.

Dickey was passionate about research and believed that tweaking the activities of the 150 or so chaperones in the body held promise for treating a range of neurodegenerative and other diseases. He was generous with his time and readily responded to Alzforum’s requests for expert commentary on all things proteostatic. “I can think of no other person I had such respect for, both scientifically and personally,” wrote Donna Wilcock, University of Kentucky, Lexington, who trained with Dickey at Morgan’s lab (see full tribute below). “Chad was an outstanding scientist, wonderful teacher and mentor to many, but most of all, a really, really good person.”

We invite friends, colleagues, and students to celebrate his life by emailing thoughts, memories, anecdotes, or photos to for posting on Alzforum.—Tom Fagan


  1. Chad Dickey has been one of my best friends and colleagues for 17 years. I met Chad when I joined the Morgan laboratory in 1999 as a technician. Chad was a technician in Ken Ugen’s laboratory and collaborating closely on a vaccination project with the Morgan lab. Chad then started graduate school at USF in 2000, and I started in 2001. We both did our Ph.D. research with Dave Morgan. He graduated in 2004, I graduated in 2005. Chad and I went to each other with any career decision, scientific roadblock, and, because we both had children around the same stage of our career, work-life issues we were facing. While our scientific paths diverged, we kept close tabs on what each other were doing. Right now, we are in the midst of a collaboration we started over a year ago that was finally a convergence of our science. I can think of no other person I had such respect for, both scientifically and personally. Chad was an outstanding scientist, wonderful teacher and mentor to many, but most of all, a really, really good person. He will be missed by many and was taken too soon. His wife and two sons will always be in my thoughts.

  2. I first met Chad in 2004, right after I started my own lab at the Mayo Clinic. He was interviewing to join Mike Hutton’s lab. As I described the basic aspects of the position and interrogated Chad on how good he was at multitasking, I remember wondering if his remarkably calm demeanor could weather the chaos of running the large colony that he would need for his project. Chad’s boyish smile didn’t waiver during the entire interview. Indeed, Chad’s smile rarely broke, even when I caught him and Adria out one night driving their first born around to get him to sleep. That smile, the same smile he almost universally wore over the 12 years that I knew him, is the embodiment of who he was and how I will remember him.

    One glance at his CV can make you appreciate the research achievements and impact that Chad had on our field in such a short career. It is what people may not have known about him that made Chad a success in my eyes. Despite Chad’s very strong passion for his research, I never saw him sacrifice his family life for his own benefit, a trait that does not come so easily in today’s society. Chad emitted a warmth that naturally made people feel at ease with him. I loved having drinks with him, talking about science and life with him, and especially having drinks while talking science and life with him. I am not particularly social, but Chad would email me or call me before international meetings to see if I planned on coming, frequently trying to twist my arm to coax me out of the lab and out of my shell. He built collaborations with many scientists who, like him, were in the career growth mode and never sacrificed those relationships to move himself ahead. I always knew that if I needed help on a project, he would jump on board with no thought as to how credit would be parsed. His unwavering commitment to fairness and honesty made me never question a decision to trust him and made me respect him far more than he knew.

  3. This is the loss of a mentor and friend. As a mentor, Chad led by example. On many occasions working late as a postdoc in his lab, I'd find him sneaking into his office to respond to a reviewer's critique or continue working on another of his many successful grants. The best part of my days in the lab were discussing science. It would start by hearing him walk down the hall tapping the wall with his finger. He'd stop at the door to my office, cross his arms, and ask, "Do you have a minute?" He'd look at you with fierce intensity and purpose under the shade of his Rays cap, and fire away with any new profound idea. In those days, we discussed engagement of co-chaperones and tau, whether dependent or independent of Hsp70/Hsc70. We also discussed at length the regulation of tau-clearing pathways.

    At conferences, the best way to begin a conversation was to say, "Hi, I'm Joe, a postdoc in Chad Dickey's lab." I was always stunned by how many people would affirm that they knew him and showed tremendous respect for his work.

    Chad was also wise beyond his years. He always had the right thing to say; coupled with his transparency, Chad befriended and taught all of us in the lab how to be better people. I think that his unequivocal instincts were key to his success. He always seemed to know the right experiment, aim, or conclusion for a paper.

    Imitation is the highest form of flattery, and I have built my lab on the guidelines I learned in Chad's lab. I hope to carry out his legacy in and out of the lab.

  4. I had the privilege of collaborating with Chad over the past few years. He is one of the nicest people I have met. In his short career, he made critical contributions to our understanding of the role of cellular chaperones in proteopathies and had a great deal more to offer. We have lost a great and a good colleague and friend. My thoughts are with Chad's family and friends.

  5. I was a graduate student in Ken Ugen’s lab when Chad started working there as a technician. He was a huge asset to our lab, personally and professionally.

    I was certainly not surprised by his success. I would describe him as the jolliest nerd I ever met, and I can still hear his deep belly laugh in my mind. I was there for his wedding to Adria, and his decision to pursue a graduate degree, and watched his growing interest in Dave Morgan’s Alzheimer’s research (the last part much to our chagrin, since people like him are also needed in HIV research!). He grew up a lot in Ken’s lab, but in my heart he will always be the big goofy smart kid who never tired of doing good things for others.

    I am shocked and saddened by this news. I cannot believe he is gone, and that I will never have the chance to hear about his latest work or perhaps even run into him during a visit to USF.

  6. I spent many evenings drinking beer and playing pub trivia with Chad while he and I were at Mayo Jacksonville together. My wife and I were truly saddened by his untimely passing. Wherever you are, we are thinking of you and your family, dude. We'll miss you.

  7. Chad was a terrific person and an excellent scientist. I have known him since 2010 and am the better for it. Such a sad loss for his family, friends, and the community. He is missed.

  8. What a terrible loss for Chad’s family, friends, and the scientific community. I personally feel his loss, as Chad and I were close friends for over 15 years. I have such fond memories of driving together to the AFAR conference in Santa Barbara, California. I always looked forward to picking Chad up from LAX and making the road trip together. I had the utmost respect for Chad as a scientist, a friend, and most of all—as a great person. I will sorely miss him, as I am certain will all of those whose lives he touched.

  9. Chad was a great friend and colleague. I first met him when I was a young faculty member at Mayo Clinic in Florida, and Chad was a postdoctoral fellow. He was later promoted to a research track assistant professor and I soon thereafter became his chair. Later Chad returned to USF on the tenure track, where he had started his science career.

    Chad possessed the qualities that I now recognize are so important for success. Chad had a real passion and drive for the science he was pursuing, but he also listened and actively sought out advice from others. He was not afraid to be wrong or make mistakes. Indeed, Len Petrucelli and Chad teamed up early in their careers. They were competitive but collaborative. They started knocking it out of the park and both launched great careers. That, as a colleague, chair, and friend, was really cool to watch.

    I was unaware of Chad’s battle until just a few months ago. Though I knew this cancer was not likely survivable, I did not expect that he would pass so quickly. I feel like we have all been robbed, and I am sure his family feels that even more than we do. Indeed, this is a tragic loss for the field and his family. Chad’s scientific star was just beginning to burn so bright. Like many who are writing to Alzforum, I have had a hard time coming to grips with Chad’s death. I probably grieved the day or two after hearing his diagnosis knowing that it would take a miracle for him to beat this cancer, but his passing still does not feel right. I’ll be working with some others to help try and memorialize Chad’s scientific career in some way. I hope you all will help. We will reach out to you soon.

  10. Our thoughts go out to Chad and his family. All of us at BrightFocus are saddened to lose a member of our scientific community. The world has lost not only one of its best and brightest stars in both the Alzheimer’s and glaucoma research fields, but also a person who cared deeply about mentoring young scientists, and about the families affected by the diseases to which he was trying to find a cure. He was a true friend to BrightFocus, and he will be missed.

  11. Chad was a dear friend and frequent collaborator. We first met in Chicago in 2006 and fell into an immediate, easy, and productive kinship. In my experience, it is rare to encounter another human being who holds so true to the values of honesty, curiosity, and daring that make science fun. When one finds such a person they need to hold them close, learn from them, and grow with them. I feel immense, crushing sadness at this loss. More so, I feel a special sadness for those who will not receive the chance to learn from Chad.

    Chad made seminal contributions to our understanding of how chaperones regulate tau homeostasis. He saw a path to curing desperately sick dementia patients through carefully understanding the factors that allow healthy neurons to rid themselves of excess tau. When I heard of his tragic passing, I found some small comfort in rereading Chad's papers. The scope and breadth of his work was staggering, especially over such a painfully short time.

    The other thing that I will remember is how Chad and I would watch and discuss baseball at every opportunity. We would drink a beverage, chat about science, and watch his Rays. He was a great scientist, to be sure, but also a great human. Goodbye, my friend.

  12. It is really sad and sudden to lose a valuable and always cooperative colleague.

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News Citations

  1. Therapeutic Takedown: Hsp90 Inhibitors Tackle Tau
  2. Chaperone “Saves” Tau, Turning it into Toxic Oligomers
  3. Ushers of Propagation? More Evidence that Chaperones Evict Disease-Associated Proteins

Other Citations


Further Reading

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