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 cognitive decline. 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 shrinkage of the brain and improve memory function in older people with memory concerns.
The results were more strikingly positive than we could have dreamt.
–A. David Smith
“We soon found that one driver of atrophy in the temporal lobe is raised blood levels of homocysteine,” Smith said. “Theorizing that nutritional factors were an important part in the prevention of brain atrophy, we began the VITACOG trial to see if we could slow brain atrophy by lowering homocysteine with B vitamin treatment. The results were more strikingly positive than we could have dreamt.”
Participants in the VITACOG trial had a significant reduction in their rate of brain atrophy, and a subset of people also experienced slowed cognitive decline.
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. He is retired, but continues his research into the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease.