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Alumnus Jeffrey Kordower, Founding Director of the ASU-Banner Neurodegenerative Disease Research Center, on How He Got His Start at CUNY

Jeffrey Kordower

By Lida Tunesi

Graduate Center alumnus Jeffrey Kordower (Ph.D. ’85, Psychology) is the new founding director of the Arizona State University-Banner Health Neurodegenerative Disease Research Center. The position comes after years of conducting his own pathbreaking research on the origins of and treatments for diseases such as Huntington’s, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s. 

“This is the only job opportunity I could have wanted,” Kordower said, “to build a neurodegenerative disease center from the ground up with amazingly talented colleagues.”

Kordower previously spent 30 years as a faculty member at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, where he directed the Center for Brain Repair. There, his research group was the first to show that fetal dopaminergic grafts can survive in patients with Parkinson’s. A leader in his field, Kordower has over 400 papers, book chapters, and edited books to his name.

The research center has existed for a few years, so Kordower’s role as its first director will be to guide the existing programs toward success, oversee the use of funding, and build alliances with other research efforts in the area, such as Banner Health, Barrow Neurological Institute, and the Mayo Clinic. Kordower will also build up the center’s faculty, aiming for five new hires in the near term, leading up to up to 20 in the future.

But the administrative work doesn’t mean he’s giving up research quite yet. Kordower will run his own lab within the center, with a focus on disease pathogenesis, experimental therapeutics such as gene therapy and anti-inflammatory approaches, and the creation of novel animal models for Alzheimer’s and multiple system atrophy.

“Everything will be done with a laser focus to help people with neurodegenerative diseases, their families, and their caretakers,” he said. “Everything has to relate back to that overarching goal.”

Kordower received his undergraduate degree in psychology from Queens College. The summer before his senior year he was working in a research lab when he started chatting with a new faculty member moving into a lab across the hall. That professor turned out to be Richard Bodnar, who was also a Graduate Center faculty member.

“Over 40 years ago, I arrived at Queens College as an assistant professor,” said Bodnar, who is now the executive officer of The Graduate Center’s Psychology program. “I had the incredible fortune to attract a young senior undergraduate named Jeff Kordower to my lab, and as is generally said, the rest is history. He finished his undergraduate work and did a sensational doctoral dissertation in 3 1/2 years. That initial trajectory continued unabated through his wonderful, meaningful and productive career all the way up to this well-deserved directorship.”

CUNY’s influence has remained with Kordower to this day.

“Richard Bodnar taught me how to be a scientist and how to be a leader,” he said. “I will always be grateful. I’m incredibly proud to be a graduate of Queen’s College and The Graduate Center. We’re not the biggest of schools, but we can do big things.”

Published by the Office of Communications and Marketing

Submitted on: MAR 19, 2021

Category: Alumni News | GCstories | General GC News | Psychology | Voices of the GC