Renowned Alzheimer's Researchers Featured in GQ's "Rock Stars of Science"

Fran Lowry

November 29, 2010

November 29, 2010 — Eminent Alzheimer's disease researchers Frank Longo, Michael Weiner, and Eric Reiman are among those featured in the December issue of GQ Magazine's "Rock Stars of Science" pictorial, sharing the spotlight with celebrity rock stars Bret Michaels, Debbie Harry, and Jay Sean.

They appear in a special 6-page public service spread in GQ's "Men of the Year" edition, which went on newsstands November 23.

The feature is sponsored by designer menswear giant Geoffrey Beene, whose charity organization Geoffrey Beene Gives Back, gives 100% of its net profits to promote research dedicated to finding cures for diseases such as Alzheimer's disease and Huntington's disease that "threaten our future."

The hope is that highlighting the work that these superstar researchers do will spur new interest in medical research, prompt more young people to enter careers in science, and educate the pubic about the need for science funding.

Left to right: Frank M. Longo, MD, PhD; Michael W. Weiner, MD; Eric M. Reiman, MD; and Bret Michaels of Poison. Photo by Kurt Iswarienko

For Dr. Longo, who could have taken over his family business and become head of Longo Toyota, the largest car dealership in the world, instead of becoming one of the leading researchers in the field of neurosciences, the rock star photo shoot experience was "awesome," and one that he won't soon forget.

"My wife is out buying up all of the December issues of GQ right now," he joked with Medscape Medical News. "All my friends want autographed copies."

This was his first experience with the bright lights of celebrity photo shoots of the glossy magazines. "It completely pulled me out of my environment. I've never had any experience like that. It's fascinating to see what goes into those beautiful pictures that you see in magazines."

Some of the world's best fashion, make-up, and hair experts were on hand to help Dr. Longo, who is the George E. and Lucy Becker Professor of Neurology and Neurological Sciences at Stanford University, Palo Alto, California, morph into his rock star alter ego.

"They asked us to wear a black jacket, black pants, and a white shirt, so I thought I was all set. But then they just took one look at me and said, 'no, this isn't going to work,'" Dr. Longo said. "They take you way beyond what a normal person like me would ever think about in terms of clothes. It was a lot of fun."

After wardrobe, Dr. Longo was whisked off to make-up and hair styling, again a totally new experience. "Of course I've never worn make-up before. So we had our make-up and hair done, and then we got into the studio, which was a big soundstage. They literally took hundreds and hundreds of pictures over several hours just for 1 final picture."

Dr. Longo was paired with rock star Bret Michaels. The former lead singer of the band Poison and winner of the 2010 season of the "Celebrity Apprentice" reality show has been in the news recently for various health problems. Diagnosed with type 1 diabetes mellitus when he was 6 years old, Michaels survived a near fatal brain hemorrhage in April 2010, followed by a transient ischemic attack a few weeks later, and was recently diagnosed as having a hole in his heart.

"It was a lot of fun talking to him," Dr. Longo said of Michaels. "We had a chance to talk about a lot of things. He's very bright and a real class act. He kept on saying to us, 'You guys are the real stars here. I wouldn't be here if it weren't for you. What you do is so important.' He was very sincere about our research," Dr. Longo said. "After the shoot he was on his way to Phoenix to do a fundraiser for the children's hospital there, so to go around doing things like that really meant a lot to me."

Dr. Longo said that one of the best things about participating in the shoot was that it enabled him to help get the word out about the research that he and other "Rock Stars of Science" are doing in neurology.

A major focus of his research has been to create small molecules that can mimic and achieve the potential effects of naturally occurring growth factors in the nervous system. These molecules are showing promise in animal models of Alzheimer's disease, stroke, Down's syndrome, multiple sclerosis, and other neurological diseases.

"I grew up with a sister who has cerebral palsy," Dr. Longo told Medscape Medical News, explaining why he became a neurologist. "She is cognitively impaired and in a wheelchair and has been severely affected her whole life. Even as a child, I remember going to her doctor appointments wondering why they couldn't make her walk. So just as a young child, I saw medicine as a big research project. Somebody has to learn how to make the brain better. That has always stayed with me."

When he was in medical school, Dr. Longo decided that he wanted to go into an area of medicine where there were "no cures," he said. "That's how I ended up in neurology. And the ironic thing is I think we are gradually transitioning to where the treatments may be, if not curative, then definitely beneficial. We're not quite there yet, but we can easily imagine it now."

Sharing the "Rock Doc" spotlight with Dr. Longo is Michael Weiner, MD, who is director of the Center for Imaging of Neurodegenerative Disease at the VA Medical Center, professor of medicine, radiology, psychiatry, and neurology at University of California, San Francisco, and the principal investigator of the Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative.

Like Dr. Longo, Dr. Weiner says that being on the photo shoot "was great fun."

He, too, was paired with Bret Michaels and called him "a really nice guy, a very interesting person, extremely intelligent, very intense, with a lot of good humour, and very appreciative of medical research."

Dr. Weiner, who is no stranger to show biz (in his other life, he plays jazz piano at various venues around San Francisco), told Medscape Medical News that being in a "real live" Los Angeles studio was a totally new experience for him.

"Everybody was very nice, and we nerdy scientists were a little lost," he said. "Just about everybody at GQ is gorgeous in one way or another and obviously very talented. But they made us look cool."

We scientists can't walk around looking 'cool.' People would wonder if we were competent.

Dr. Weiner says he went back to his "nerdiness" as soon as he walked out of the studio. "We scientists can't walk around looking cool. People would wonder if we were competent. We have to look appropriate for our field."

The third Alzheimer's disease researcher/Rock Star of Science is Eric Reiman, MD, executive director of the Banner Alzheimer's Institute and clinical director of the Neurogenomics Division, Translational Genomics Research Institute, in Phoenix, Arizona.

In GQ, Dr. Reiman lists his profession as psychiatrist and brain imaging researcher and confesses that his alternative career choice would have been architect or orthopaedic surgeon, adding "I would have been awful as either."

He also told GQ that his goal is "to end Alzheimer's disease without losing another generation, set a new standard of care for patients and families, and provide a model of collaboration in biomedical research."

Other featured "Rock Doc" researchers in cancer, autism, heart disease, and other disciplines include the following:

Geraldine Dawson, PhD, a developer of early interventions for children with autism as the chief science officer at Autism Speaks.

Mehmet C. Oz, MD, cardiothoracic surgeon at New York Presbyterian Hospital, vice chair and professor of surgery at Columbia University, and Daytime Emmy Award–winning host of "The Dr. Oz Show."

Stephen B. Baylin, MD, cancer biologist and researcher in epigenetic therapy at the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland.

Elizabeth H. Blackburn, PhD, discoverer of the enzyme telomerase and professor at the University of California, San Francisco.

Susan J. Blumenthal, MD, MPA, professor at Georgetown University, Washington, DC, and Tufts School of Medicine, Boston, Massachusetts, and former US assistant surgeon general, who worked with First Lady Hilary Clinton to convince the Central Intelligence Agency, Pentagon, and National Aeronautics and Space Administration to make their advanced imaging technologies available to improve the early detection of breast cancer.

Catriona Jamieson, MD, PhD, a pioneer in stem cell research and hematologic cancer researcher at University of California, San Diego.

Emil Kakkis, MD, PhD, a physician scientist who develops treatments for rare genetic diseases and president of Kakkis Everylife Foundation.

Joan Massagué, PhD, researcher in cancer biology and genetics at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York City.

Charles L. Sawyers, MD, chair of the human oncology and pathogenesis program at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York City.

Phillip A. Sharp, PhD, academician, institute professor, Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge.

Craig B. Thompson, MD, president and chief executive officer of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Institute, New York City.

Mehmet Toner, PhD, professor of biomedical engineering at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston.

Frank L. Douglas, MD, PhD, president and chief executive officer of Austin BioInnovation Institute and professor at the University of Akron, Ohio.

Bernard A. Harris, Jr., MD, physician, astronaut and venture capitalist, founder of the Harris Foundation and chief executive officer and managing director of Vesalius Ventures.

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