John P. Blass, M.D., Ph.D
Emeritus Professor at Weill Medical College
of Cornell University
General Research Summary
One of the things that happens in Alzheimer's disease and a number of other neurological diseases is a decrease in the brain's ability to burn its fuels with the usual speed and efficiency. My laboratory was particularly interested in diseases affecting the brain's ability to burn its major fuel, sugar. These diseases affect the power plants of the cell (mitochondria) and specifically a part of the mitochondria, namely the Krebs tricarboxylic acid cycle. My coworkers and I were among the first researchers to study the abnormalities in mitochondria in the Alzheimer brain. Our discoveries led me to develop a patented nutraceutical preparation that appeared to slow or stop the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, in a small but rigorous study. As emeritus professor, my current focus is further development and clinical testing of this and related preparations designed to help people with Alzheimer disease and other diseases that cause degeneration of the brain.Biographical Information
John Blass received his A.B. (summa cum laude) in 1958 from Harvard College, where he was a Harvard Scholar and majored in Biochemical Sciences. He then went to England for two years as a Marshall Scholar (1958-1960). He earned his PhD degree there from the University of London, where he was a student of Dr. Henry McIlwain, one of the pioneers of the modern neurochemistry of the brain. He then returned to NY and earned an MD degree at Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons. During his medical school years, he took one year off to do full time research as an American Cancer Society fellow in the laboratory of Dr. Heinrich Waelsch, who was another of neurochemistry’s founding fathers. From 1965 to 1967, Blass did an internship and residency in Medicine at the Massachusetts General Hospital and then three years (1967-1970) in the National Heart Institute at the NIH (now the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute). He was an Assistant and Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Biochemistry at UCLA Medical School from 1970-1978. Since then he has been Winifred Masterson Burke Professor of Neurology and Medicine at Weill Medical College of Cornell University, where he established and directed a research and clinical unit at the Burke Medical Research Institute. He has also had an appointment in the Field of Neurosciences there. In 2005, he will become Emeritus Professor at Cornell, but continue as a part-time employee of the Burke Institute.
Blass has served on the editorial boards of 17 journals including the Journal of Neurochemistry. He was associate editor of the Journal of the American Geriatric Society for five years. He has served on a number of governmental review panels and other committees, including the Council of the National Institute on Aging. He was the first chair of the joint Presidential-Congressional Panel on Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders. Blass has consulted for state governments and for private foundations in the USA and Europe. He is a past president of the American Federation of Aging Research, and has been on its board since its founding. His academic honors include several visiting professorships. He has served as a member of the council of both the American and the International Society for Neurochemistry. He belongs to a number of other scholarly societies, including the American Society for Clinical Investigation, the American Society of Biological Chemistry and Molecular Biology, Phi Beta Kappa, Sigma Xi, and Alpha Omega Alpha.
Laboratory Focus and Projects
Dr. Blass’s research interests have concentrated on brain metabolism and metabolic diseases of the brain, particularly diseases affecting the mitochondria and specifically the Krebs tricarboxylic acid cycle. Blass’s interest in this topic began at NIH, where he described the first hereditary defect in a major enzyme of human oxidative/energy metabolism (pyruvate dehydrogenase deficiency). Since moving to Cornell, his work has concentrated on Alzheimer Disease and other neurodegenerative diseases. He and his coworkers pioneered the finding that inherent abnormalities of mitochondrial components occur in Alzheimer brain and the implications of that finding for the pathophysiology of dementia. He has also published on clinical aspects of Alzheimer disease and other causes of cognitive impairment.
Blass has recently developed a neutraceutical “metabolic enhancer” to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders. Cornell devolved the patent for this invention on him. It is now being developed commercially. Blass’s current research interests, which he is pursuing in time not committed to Cornell or to the Burke Institute, include the refinement and clinical testing of this and related preparations
Jeitner, T.J., Bogdanov, M.B., Matson, W.R., Daikhin, Y., Yudkoff, M., Folk, J.E., Steinman, L., Browne, S.E., Beal, M.F., Blass, J.P., Cooper, A.J.L. Nε-(γ-L-glutamyl)-L-lysine(GGEL) is increased in cerebrospinal fluid of patients with Huntington’s disease. J Neurochem 2001; 79: 1109-1112.
Brown, A.M., Kristal, B.S., Effron, M., Shestapolov, A.I. Ullucci, P.A., Sheu, K-F.R., Blass, J.P. Zn2+inhibits α-ketoglutarate-stimulated mitochondrial respiration and is a potent inhibitor of the isolated α-ketoglutarate dehydrogenase complex. J Biol Chem 2000; 275: 13441-13447.
Blass, J.P. and Gibson, G.E. Abnormality of a thiamine-requiring enzyme in patients with Wernicke- Korsakoff syndrome. New Eng J Med 1977; 297: 1367-1370.
Blass, J.P., Schulman, J.D., Young, D.S. and Hom, E. (1972) An inherited defect affecting the tricarboxylic acid cycle in a patient with congenital lactic acidosis. J Clin Invest 51: 1845-1851.
Hazzard, W.R., Blass, J.P., Tinetti, M., Halter J.B., Eds. (2003) Principles of Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology,
5th edition, McGraw-Hill, NY.