Dr. Bischof Successfully Defends Dissertation

Gérard Bischof – that’s Dr. Gérard Bischof as of June 2 – started working with older populations at a precocious young age, well before he thought of pursuing a doctorate in cognitive neuroscience, which he finally earned over the summer after a five-plus-year journey.

The long, winding road to earning his doctorate started in his native Germany, where as a teenager he volunteered at a hospice for terminally ill cancer patients. Many of its elderly residents were also struggling with cognitive issues while desperately trying to recall fond memories.

After a stint with the German Red Cross as a nurse his 20s, Dr. Bischof turned his attention to issues of aging and cognitive decline, beginning his studies at the University of Marburg. After two-and-a-half years there, Dr. Bischof joined his thesis adviser to start a new laboratory at the University of Hamburg.

“My early experiences with the elderly inspired me to study the psychology and neuroscience of aging,” Dr. Bischof says. “I realized early on that the aging mind and the body have a fascinating potential for recovery if we can better understand how the brain ages.”

The seminal point in Dr. Bischof’s journey began when he set his sights on studying in the United States, with a very specific focus on pathological processes related to dementia and aging.

While at the Beckman Institute at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, working with then Illinois professor Dr. Denise Park, Dr. Bischof used functional MRI to understand the neural underpinnings of imaginative and actual movement in young and older adults. He returned to the United States prior to completing his degree in Hamburg. He moved to Dallas as a one of the earliest pioneers of the Park Aging Mind Lab to help set up both the Synapse Project and the Dallas Lifespan Brain Study at UTD. At CVL he has become interested in amyloid deposition in neuro-cortical sites and how amyloid may have a role or be an important clue in the progression of Alzheimer’s Disease.

The title of Dr. Bischof’s dissertation defense given this summer was the “Impact of Amyloid Deposition in Middle-Aged Adults: Structural and Cognitive Consequences.” Attended by colleagues, professors and mentors from the United States, his presentation was scrutinized by a dissertation committee that “grilled” him after the public portion of the presentation concluded.

No rest for the weary, Dr. Bischof plans to continue contributing to a body of knowledge that suggests the cascade of amyloid deposition may start even earlier in life than previously assumed.

“Amyloid seems to be an indicator, and not necessarily a cause of Alzheimer’s. We need to conceptualize and understand as best we can which target populations are best for disease-modifying interventions,” he says.