Berislav V. Zlokovic, MD, PhD, the pioneering researcher whose work has transformed modern understanding of degenerative neurological diseases, was installed as the inaugural holder of the Mary Hayley and Selim Zilkha Chair in Alzheimer’s Disease Research at a ceremony held May 4 at the Zilkha Neurogenetic Institute.

Zlokovic, chair and professor of physiology and biophysics at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, also is the director of the institute.

The chair was established to support research efforts to understand Alzheimer’s disease. The institute was established in 2003 after a gift from Zilkha, whose family has been affected by the disease.

“Selim Zilkha learned that Alzheimer’s disease is one that affects the mind, as well as the heart,” said USC President C. L. Max Nikias, PhD. “Mary Hayley and Selim Zilkha are two visionary philanthropists who have contributed to advancing scientific discoveries through their extraordinary generosity.”

Zlokovic’s research focuses on the links between the health of blood vessels in the brain and degenerative brain diseases. His accomplishments have earned the researcher worldwide acclaim, Nikias added.

“Professor Zlokovic has ushered in a new age of innovation and discovery, leading the way with bold new breakthroughs,” Nikias said. “For those suffering from neurological degenerative diseases, his work provides a ray of hope for their healing.”

Last year, Zlokovic and his team were awarded four grants totaling $25 million to expand research efforts.

Zlokovic received his bachelor’s degree from Belgrade College of Sciences in what is now Serbia. For his medical degree and doctorate, he attended the University of Belgrade, where he also completed his residency in clinical physiology. He then certified his medical degree in the U.S. and obtained a California medical license.

Prior to starting his medical career, he trained as an opera singer.

“While opera was his passion, the sciences were his dream,” said Rohit Varma, MD, MPH, dean of the Keck School and director of the USC Gayle and Edward Roski Eye Institute. “I am so glad he followed his dreams and devoted his career to obtaining a better understanding of Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases. Over his career, Dr. Zlokovic has made significant contributions to the science of neurodegenerative diseases. I can’t imagine anyone more deserving of this honor.”

More than 5 million Americans currently live with Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.

Zlokovic called being established as the Mary Hayley and Selim Zilkha Chair in Alzheimer’s Disease Research an “incredible honor” and one of the great moments of his professional career. Zlokovic spent 11 years at the Keck School before going to the University of Rochester Medical Center. He rejoined the Keck School in 2011.

“Brain science is the last medical frontier,” he said, before thanking his colleagues and research team for their support and commitment to ending degenerative brain diseases. “I can say that one of my best decisions in life was when I came back to USC.”

—Douglas Morino