Science & Medicine Pioneer
A. David Smith
Pharmacology, University of Oxford
A. David Smith is Professor Emeritus of Pharmacology, Founding Director of Oxford Project to Investigate Memory and Ageing (OPTIMA), and Founding Director of MRC Anatomical Neuropharmacology Unit at the University of Oxford. His research has focused on the prevention of cognitive decline.
Smith has spent his entire career at the University of Oxford, beginning as a student of biochemistry in 1963 and years later ascending to Chair and Head of Pharmacology at Oxford and Fellow of Lady Margaret Hall. His lab, Smith Group, has investigated the role of micronutrients, especially B vitamins, in relation to the functioning of the brain, in particular in prevention of cognitive decline, and in the causation of obesity.
As part of this research, Smith co-founded OPTIMA, which has pioneered the study of the prevention of cognitive decline by identifying modifiable risk factors. For example, Smith and his colleagues discovered that elevated plasma homocysteine and low-normal concentrations of B vitamins (folate, vitamin B12, and vitamin B6) are important risk factors for declining brain health. This led them to carry out VITACOG, a two-year randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial to see if B vitamin treatment could affect the rate of atrophy of the brain.
“We soon found that one driver of brain atrophy is raised blood levels of homocysteine,” Smith said. “Theorizing that nutritional factors were an important part in slowing brain atrophy, we began the VITACOG trial to see if we could unlock potential benefits for brain health by lowering homocysteine with B vitamin treatment. The results were more strikingly positive than we could have dreamt.”
Smith has received several honors throughout his career, including honorary doctorates from the Universities of Szeged and Lund, membership in the Hungarian and Norwegian Academies of Science, election as Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences, UK, and becoming Honorary Research Fellow of Alzheimer’s Research UK.