George Bartzokis, a UCLA medical researcher whose work found that a fatty substance in the brain could play a major role in the development of disorders such as Alzheimer's disease and schizophrenia, died Aug. 22 at home in Los Angeles. He was 58.
The cause was pancreatic cancer, said his wife, Kelly Phelan.
Bartzokis (bart-ZO-kis), a professor in the department of psychiatry, focused his research on myelin, a fatty sheath that coats the brain's nerve fibers as new tasks and functions are learned. "Myelin is basically the insulation of the wires of your brain's Internet," he said in an interview with the Smarter Team Training site on brain function and athletic performance.
His research indicated that poor quality myelin could be a key cause of mental disorders. An Alzheimer's study he led, published in a 2007 issue of the journal Alzheimer's & Dementia, ran counter to more widely accepted research that pinpoints the buildup of a protein, beta amyloid, as the primary cause of the disease.
Bartzokis became an outspoken advocate for alternatives to amyloid research.
"They are not being pursued because of lack of funding," he write in a 2011 opinion piece for ABC News. "Meanwhile, the mass of boomers are starting their inexorable march off the Alzheimer's disease cliff like so many millions of lemmings."
Bartzokis was born in a refugee camp for Greeks in Romania on Aug. 19, 1956. His parents left Greece during the civil war that erupted in that country following World War II.
When he was 14, the family moved to the United States, settling in the Boston area where his parents opened a pizza shop. "George learned English by watching TV," said Phelan, and using a Greek-English dictionary to look up words.
He got his undergraduate degree at Harvard College and then went to medical school at Yale University. In 1983 he came to Los Angeles for his psychiatry residency at UCLA.
In addition to Phelan, he is survived by daughters Katherine Bartzokis of Mammoth Lakes and Christina Bartzokis, who recently enrolled at Yale; and his mother, Hrisanthi Bartzokis, who is living in Greece.