Peter Ljubenkov, M.D., has been fascinated with the brain ever since he began studying neuroscience as an undergraduate student. “It's fascinating, that these key aspects of your human experience and what you remember – what you love and ways you interact with other people – have a root in a physical organ, your brain,” says Dr. Ljubenkov.
A Family Focus
Alzheimer’s became very real for Dr. Ljubenkov when his grandfather – who he was very close with and named in honor of – developed the disease. So as Dr. Ljubenkov studied the complexities of the brain as a young college student, he also became an experienced dementia caregiver. As a certified nursing assistant (CNA), he took the lead in providing daily care when his grandfather was diagnosed, as he was the only one in his family who knew how. Between undergrad and graduate school, Dr. Ljubenkov trained his family members in daily care for his grandfather as he began his residency at UC San Diego.
Sadly, he lost his grandfather to the disease soon after he started his residency, but his experience only enhanced his passion to end Alzheimer’s. “Seeing my grandfather struggle had a profound impact on me, and drove a lot of the decisions I made as I sought out different training experiences later in my career,” Dr. Ljubenkov says. “Watching my grandfather battle the disease was a motivating force to pursue a career in neurology and specifically a career where I would be looking for a cure.”
This focus and drive was further cultivated by experiences that allowed him to understand more deeply the roots of Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia. “When I arrived at the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF), I received thorough clinical training, and was exposed to research around different biomarkers
and therapies, which became invaluable.”
Impact of Part the Cloud
Part the Cloud
, a movement to accelerate scientific progress in Alzheimer's research by funding the most promising early phase studies, is funding 60 projects across the globe. It is also supporting best-in-class research locally at UCSF. Dr. Ljubenkov received a Part the Cloud grant with funding from the Alzheimer’s Association for his Veri-T: A Phase I Placebo-Controlled Trial of Verdiperstat in FTLD-TDP
Working in clinical trials led Dr. Ljubenkov to his fellowship training at UCSF, and while working with mentor Adam Boxer, M.D., Ph.D., a fellow Part the Cloud awardee, he received greater exposure to clinical trials, gained deeper knowledge into biomarkers and invaluable insight into the diseases he works with.
When Dr. Ljubenkov began to pursue the idea for the Veri-T trial, support from Part the Cloud was especially useful for this smaller study, leading to millions of dollars in additional funding through a grant from the National Institute on Aging (NIA). This ultimately allowed Dr. Ljubenkov and his team of researchers to pursue their study with a multisite trial design, collecting standardized data, which is vital to advance future research. “Part the Cloud offers career researchers an opportunity to create trials that are not strictly industry-driven, which will help us get therapies to people living with the disease sooner,” he says. “It was indispensable to our development of a larger scale trial. Not only is Part the Cloud stimulating creative discovery in the field, it’s essential so that more researchers can get involved to translate their ideas into clinical trials.”
Hope for the End of Alzheimer’s
As a former dementia caregiver, Dr. Ljubenkov knows how difficult life is for families in the midst of this disease, but shares a hopeful message. “It’s an exciting time to be a behavioral neurologist and to be incredibly optimistic in our search for a cure, because researchers now have resources we never had. And, importantly, we are elevating new ideas around equity and inclusion of people who have historically been left out of dementia research. We now have many opportunities to do so much more,” he says.
Part the Cloud
Founded in 2012 by Michaela "Mikey" Hoag, Part the Cloud is a movement to accelerate scientific progress in Alzheimer's research by funding the most promising early phase studies.
Dr. Ljubenkov sees very empathetic people in the Alzheimer's and dementia field, and says his own personal experience makes it easy for him to be the same way for his patients. “I have an understanding of what it feels like to have a bomb go off in your life, watching your loved one lose their ability to live life the way they used to, not knowing what the future looks like. It is an experience like no other.”
When thinking about advice that would have been helpful to him as a young caregiver, he says there are many resources out there that people only need to tap into. “It's really important to first get an appropriate diagnosis from a doctor with expertise in dementia, and to keep a relationship with that doctor. Reach out to organizations like the Alzheimer's Association, who have rich resources
and support systems
in place to help families on this journey, and to move the research field forward. You don't have to bear this alone, and there are a lot of people working very hard to provide hope for the future.”
: Outside of his professional work in the field of dementia, Peter Ljubenkov, M.D., is father of a young toddler and enjoys cycling, 80s music and entomology, the study of insects.
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