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An Unexpected Kindness that Led to Big Results in Brain Health

Dr. Charles Bernick, School of Community Health Alumnus of the Year, has gotten Nevada into the thick of the fight against Alzheimer's.

People  |  Oct 11, 2018  |  By Brian Sodoma
Charles Bernick

Dr. Charles Bernick leads the Professional Fighters Brain Health at the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health. (Casey Jade Photography)

Editor's Note: 

As part of UNLV's Homecoming festivities, the UNLV Alumni Association will celebrate the accomplishments of graduates at its annual reception and awards ceremony Oct. 18. You can stream the awards ceremony live here.


Dr. Charles Bernick (’11 MPH) is the School of Community Health Alumnus of the Year. He is the associate medical director for the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health. In addition to his UNLV degree, he received his medical doctorate from the University of Texas Southwestern, completed a neurology residency at the University of Miami, followed by a fellowship in neurology at the University of Arizona. 

Tell us about a moment when someone showed you unexpected kindness. How do you pay it forward?

During my career, many individuals helped me without expecting a favor in return. Dr. Leon Thal was one of those people, and he also proved to be one of the most influential professionals in my life.

I moved to Las Vegas in 1994 with the goal to develop a statewide system of Alzheimer’s disease care and research. Offering patients the opportunity to participate in clinical trials testing the newest medications is critical to creating a top Alzheimer’s center. But how does a fledgling program in Las Vegas get into the game?

While at a regional medical meeting, I attended a presentation by Dr. Thal, known for his Alzheimer’s therapeutics work and the principal investigator of the Alzheimer’s disease Cooperative Study, a group of the 40 top Alzheimer’s centers. I approached him after his talk, introducing myself and our center, and made a pitch for including Las Vegas in a new research trial. Encouraged by his graciousness, I was even more surprised when a call came from his staff the following week welcoming us to the trial.

From there, we gradually built our research program. Dr. Thal didn’t need to give a nascent program this opportunity, but he did. It also impressed me how the Las Vegas community embraced medical research. The greatest limitation in determining if an Alzheimer’s medication works is the time it takes to find study participants. Our program’s success is closely tied to the willingness of Las Vegans to join these important projects — and of course, in my humble view, it’s also tied to a selfless world-class physician who didn’t think twice about giving Las Vegas a seat at the Alzheimer’s research table.

Searching for a Cure

Bernick has been involved in the field of Alzheimer’s disease research and treatment for nearly 20 years, beginning as the attending neurologist for the Alzheimer’s Disease Diagnostic and Treatment Center at the University of California, Davis.

Since joining the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in 2009, he has guided the Professional Fighters Brain Health study, which is aimed at understanding the effects of cumulative head trauma on brain structure and function.