Why I Do Research: A Neurologist Talks Alzheimer’s

Adam Fleisher Headshot

Can you recall a pivotal moment that shifted your mindset, altered the path you were on or altogether changed your life? For Lilly scientist and neurologist, Adam Fleisher, M.D., that moment is a vivid memory as a 10-year-old boy.   

As Fleisher and his father were biking through their neighborhood one morning, the two came across a man lying unconscious on his front yard. Fleisher’s father, a physician, was able to provide the man with immediate help. His father’s ability and willingness to help others left a lasting impression on him. Coupled with an innate curiosity about the human mind and a fascination for neuroscience, Fleisher eventually enrolled in medical school to study neurology. There, a visiting neurologist advised students that, if they wanted to be a successful academic neurologist, they must have a disease to focus on. Fleisher chose dementia, one of the most complex diseases of modern times.

Throughout medical school, Fleisher discovered a compelling paradox: A great need existed to better understand the science of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, but doctors could do little to help patients. Motivated by this unmet need, Fleisher joined researchers at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), where he became the medical director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Cooperative Study (ADCS). “I really learned the trade at the ADCS and gained a foundational understanding of dementia from both a clinical and scientific standpoint,” says Fleisher.

During his time at the ADCS, Fleisher was introduced to the industry side of Alzheimer’s disease research. As a fellow, he had the opportunity of being a principal investigator of trials. He later co-directed a phase 2 study with Eric Siemers, distinguished medical fellow at Lilly, which further explored the efficacy of an investigational Alzheimer’s disease drug. While the drug did not advance, Fleisher learned an important lesson — unexpected outcomes and challenges yield invaluable findings, teaching scientists a little bit more about the complexity of disease.

As he developed a research career in clinical dementia and brain imaging at the ADCS, Fleisher cultivated a deep understanding of Alzheimer’s disease pathology and began to realize the importance of diagnostic tools. These new skills opened another door for Fleisher: Dr. Roy Yaari, a UCSD classmate, friend and neurologist, asked Fleisher to help build an institute for multidisciplinary care and research in Alzheimer’s disease — the Banner Alzheimer’s Institute in Phoenix, Arizona.

At that Banner Alzheimer's Institute, Fleisher led the computational imaging facility and began working with Avid Radiopharmaceuticals, a wholly owned subsidiary of Lilly. With clinical and diagnostic experience, as well as having run several clinical trials in Alzheimer’s disease, Fleisher continued to seek ways in which he could make an even bigger impact on patients.

In 2014, Fleisher joined Lilly as a medical fellow on the Alzheimer’s team – just six months after Roy Yaari joined the company. “I always saw myself as an academic neurologist, but I soon realized that industry would allow me to have a larger impact on patients' lives, and bring medication and discovery findings back to patients' bedsides,” says Fleisher. “This is really what attracted me to Lilly.”

Fleisher enjoys working alongside other Lilly scientists dedicated to finding treatment solutions for devastating diseases such as Alzheimer’s: “Lilly takes a holistic approach to Alzheimer’s disease, and that approach is carried back to the research labs, where scientists really consider what the true needs are for the people living with this devastating disease, as well as their families.”

With the influence of his father and the shared dedication of fellow scientists in mind, Fleisher continues to seize those pivotal moments to continue helping those around the world impacted by Alzheimer’s disease.

Click here to learn more about Lilly’s commitment to Alzheimer’s disease research.

Click here to learn more about Lilly scientist and neurologist Roy Yaari.