(San Diego, CA) – An investigation continues into what caused the crash of a light plane that killed a pioneering Alzheimer’s research scientist. Doctor Leon Thal, 62, was chairman of the Department of Neurosciences at the University of California, San Diego.
Authorities say Thal was piloting a Mooney M20 when it crashed in the mountains on Saturday, February 3, 2007, near Borrego Springs, California. No one else was on the plane. The crash occurred shortly after Thai took off from Montgomery Field Airport in the Kearny Mesa area of San Diego.
Thal’s wife reportedly notified authorities when he failed to arrive in Borrego Springs. A distress signal from his plane was picked up by volunteers with the California Civil Air Patrol late Saturday night. Sheriff’s deputies reached the crash site by helicopter about 1 a.m. Sunday and found his body in the plane. The National Transportation Safety Board is conducting the investigation into what caused the crash.
Doctor Thal was born in New York City in 1944. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Tufts University, a medical degree from Downstate Medical Center, State University of New York, and received neurology training at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx. His clinical experience included service at more than six hospitals over the course of his career. He joined UCSD in 1985 as an associate professor of neurosciences and was named department chair in 1993.
Thal received numerous honors and awards over his lifetime. He published more than 500 scientific articles related to Alzheimer’s and also directed a national consortium of more than 70 research centers in the U. S. and Canada called the Alzheimer’s Disease Cooperative Study. He also was recently named to the board of the National Alzheimer’s Association.
Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a form of dementia, a brain disorder that affects memory and progressively destroys a person’s ability to carry out daily activities. Alzheimer’s afflicts 4.5 million people in the U.S.
Scientists have found that Alzheimer’s causes nerve cells to die in areas of the brain that are vital to memory. The connection between nerve cells is also disrupted in the brains of people suffering from Alzheimer’s and there are lower levels of brain chemicals that carry messages.
It still is not known what causes the disease, but researchers believe that there is probably not one single cause. The most important known risk factor is age. Alzheimer’s usually develops in people age 65 or older. According to the National Institute on Aging, several drugs may help prevent some of the symptoms from becoming worse for a limited amount of time in the early and middle stages of the disease. Those drugs are Tacrine (Cognex), donepezil (Aricept), rivastigmine (Exelon), galantamine (Razadyne), and memantine (Namenda).