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Professor starts new research track as he turns 100

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Professor starts new research track as he turns 100

Before guests gathered at his Urbana home to celebrate his 100th birthday on Saturday, University professor emeritus Fred Kummerow was more focused on finding funding for his Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s research than on his centennial.

“I still need, right now, $15,000 a month to keep myself going,” Kummerow said. “And I’m having a hard time getting that.”

In addition to what he needs, Kummerow receives $5,000 a month from funds generated by oil wells that were originally donated to the University by Ethel Burnsides decades ago. Burnsides also funded the Burnsides Research Laboratory, where Kummerow still works.

“The Carle Clinic is willing to work with me on (Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s research) and give me samples of blood from these people,” Kummerow said. “But they did not have any money. And the University does not have any money either, they tell me. I am trying to get money out of the (University’s) Foundation. I got a couple of birthday cards from the Foundation, but I don’t want birthday cards, I want some money from them.”

Kummerow gave several reasons for why he switched from researching heart disease to Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s this year and said that he “felt that (he) was through with heart disease.”

He also said that he wanted to research Parkinson’s disease because his wife, Amy, to whom he was married for 70 years, died of the disease two years ago.

Another reason Kummerow has chosen to focus his research on Alzheimer’s disease is because he has a donor for his research.

“I have a source of funding which gives me about $25,000 a year, who has Alzheimer’s disease, bad Alzheimer’s,” Kummerow said.

Amy was also interested in the community and politics, and she was a precinct committeeman from 1970 to 2009 for the local democratic party. Kummerow said his birthday party would also serve as a fundraiser for Ann Callis’ congressional run.

Jean Kummerow is one of three children to Fred. She said her father’s birthday was “pretty amazing” and that it was the first 100th birthday party she had attended.

“He is not someone who likes a lot of attention on himself,” Jean said. “So since my mother was in politics, this seemed like a perfect way to celebrate: to have a fundraiser for a candidate that she would have supported and he would too.”

Jean also co-authored a book with her father and an updated version was released in April titled, “Cholesterol is Not the Culprit.” Kummerow helped make her father’s research understandable to a general audience. The book is about what is healthy to eat and why, based on Kummerow’s research into heart disease and trans fats, which he has spent a large portion of his career researching. Fred said he hoped the book would start to make an impact.

“All the physicians in the United States believe that cholesterol is the culprit and the only thing they have now is they give people a statin,” Kummerow said.

Statin is a type of drug physicians prescribe that helps lower patients’ cholesterol. However, Kummerow said he believes trans fats, not cholesterol, is a cause of heart disease.

Working on the book with her father “was a challenge” for Jean, but not without its rewards.

“I would keep searching and at times I would just have to give up because you can not get all of the scientific principles in plain English,” Jean Kummerow said. “But it was also interesting because I learned a lot and it was a nice way to spend time with my dad.”

Lou Ann Carper, Fred Kummerow’s caretaker, said she helps him with his typing and answering his phone and emails. She said his 100th birthday is wonderful and that he is in good shape.

“He just got reports back from the lab that he is terrific,” Carper said. “He is more like a 25-year old than he is a 100-year old.”

While he was surrounded by guests during his party, Fred said 100 felt “no different than 99”, except that there wasn’t a party when he was 99.

Andrew can be reached at [email protected].

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