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New leader named for Center on Aging

The University of Kentucky has landed another high-profile researcher to head up one of its major medical divisions, the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging.

Linda Jo Van Eldik, the associate director of Northwestern University's Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer's Disease Center, is scheduled to start at UK on Feb. 1. She will succeed Dr. William R. Markesbury, who is stepping down after 30 years as the center's leader but will remain on the faculty.

Van Eldik said she is excited and honored to head up what she called "the premier center on aging in the world."

"It has done outstanding research in aging and age-related disorders," she said in a phone interview from Northwestern, where she also serves as professor of cell and molecular biology. "This was really a logical evolution for me to become a center director for a much more well-established center."

Her hire, contingent on the board of trustees' approval, will be the second major medical hiring in less than a year. In April, UK announced it had hired Dr. Mark Evers, a surgeon and researcher well-known in the medical field, to head its Markey Cancer Center.

Van Eldik said she is eager to increase collaboration with the cancer center, as well as UK's Spinal Cord and Brain Injury Research Center.

Van Eldik will bring to Lexington her research into degenerative brain disorders and diseases, such as Alz heimer's.

Specifically, she and her team have looked at the effect glia — the cells that connect, serve and heal nerve cells in the brain — have on the progression of those degenerative diseases.

The glia kick into action to help repair the nerves when there is an injury to the brain, such as a concussion or Alz heimer's.

"They would activate and put out very beneficial molecules that would try to restore the brain's function back to normal," she said. "What we study is when the balance between the beneficial functions and detrimental responses of the activated glia gets out of whack."

If the glia overdo it, it could speed up the progression of dementia or Alzhei mer's.

So Van Eldik and her team of researchers have been looking into producing a drug that would potentially regulate the glia to keep them from malfunctioning.

Van Eldik, who will be paid $225,000 a year, will bring with her a postdoctoral associate and could hire as many as five technicians and researchers to work with her.

She currently has two grants, including a $450,000 two-year Zenith Award from the Alzheimer's Association and a grant from the American Health Assistance Foundation, which she expects will transfer with her.

Van Eldik, a Florida native, received her undergraduate degree at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., and her doctorate at Duke University in 1977.

While she admitted to being a Blue Devils basketball fan, she said that will change when she arrives in Lexington.

"I'll probably pull for Kentucky now, of course," she said. But she added: "People told me I really made a big faux pas by not negotiating basketball tickets in my contract."

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