Updated 22 December 2010. View In Memory: Mark A. Smith on the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease website.
According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Smith, a prolific and outspoken researcher on Alzheimer’s disease and the biology of aging, was walking home at about 2 a.m. from an early Christmas party at a local tavern, when a man, who had apparently been at the tavern as well that night, struck him from behind and left the scene. Another motorist noticed the body of a man lying in the road, notified the police, and Smith was pronounced dead at a local hospital shortly thereafter. Incredibly, the driver was later found dead in his home or his car, according to various early news reports (see, e.g., The News-Herald). Police are investigating.
Born in 1965, Smith grew up in England, trained there and in Vienna, Austria, and then began his U.S. career with a postdoctoral position in 1992 in the lab of George Perry at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. Smith rose through the ranks at Case Western, where he was professor of pathology. In 2006, Perry moved on to become dean at the University of Texas at San Antonio, but the two continued to work together closely. “We exchanged 20 e-mails per day and spoke daily on the phone, the last time Friday,” said Perry.
Smith and Perry coauthored some 500 papers and shared the work of editor-in-chief of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. They co-edited, with Jesus Avila and June Kinoshita, the centennial book Alzheimer’s Disease, A Century of Scientific and Clinical Research, IOS Press, 1996. “Mark and I were indistinguishable in many ways. We worked on everything together,” said Perry. Indeed, a follow-up to this book, chronicling the major discoveries in AD research in the years since 1996, is already in planning; Perry will dedicate it to Smith.
Smith’s main contributions to the understanding of Alzheimer’s disease lie in the areas of oxidative stress and the cell cycle. On the former, Perry recalled that oxidative stress was mentioned before Smith’s work but was really not developed as a mechanism contributing to AD pathogenesis. “Mark established that with energy, drive, and creativity,” Perry said.
Craig Atwood, a former colleague and early collaborator of Smith’s, who is now at University of Wisconsin, Madison, noted that in time, Smith’s work on a possible reactivation of the neuronal cell cycle as a mechanism in AD may come to be seen as an equally important discovery. Starting a decade ago, Smith repeatedly questioned the predominance of the amyloid hypothesis in Alzheimer’s research (see e.g., Smith et al., 2000 and Smith et al., 2002). He delivered his criticism with irreverent British humor and sometimes self-deprecation, and was perhaps best known in the AD field for his stance paired with his work on oxidative stress. However, his research actually ranged across disciplines, from cancer to prion disease to development and neuroendocrinology. Smith also served as executive director and treasurer of the American Aging Association. “Mark’s death is a huge loss,” Atwood said.
Mark Smith leaves behind his father, two sisters, his wife Gemma Casadesus, who is an assistant professor at Case Western Reserve University, and their two young sons.
With this obituary, the Alzforum editors reach out to our wider community. Did you know Mark? Did you work with him? Hear him speak? Train with him? In this time of sorrow for Mark’s family, reach inside and share a tribute to Mark. We’ll post your mementos—pictures of shared moments, recollections sad and funny, rich and light. For their part, the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease will gather contributions from their staff and collate them into a printed book memorializing Mark for his family and friends. The Alzforum will gladly contribute your comments to this book.—Gabrielle Strobel.