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Faculty Spotlight: Andrew Liu, MD, MS

Tuesday, October 8, 2019
Andy Liu

Andrew "Andy" Liu, MD, first became interested in neurology when his mentor, Mark Albers, MD, showed him how to localize a lesion in the central nervous system by giving the person a neurological exam. Now, as our newest faculty member in our Division of Memory Disorders, he’s using that and other expertise to help patients with dementia and other cognitive difficulties. In this week’s “Spotlight” interview, Liu talks to us about his work at Duke, how his master’s degree in biomedical science informs his current work, and how he works to help and comfort his patients.

What are your current responsibilities within the Neurology Department? What does a typical day for you look like?
My current responsibilities include evaluating patients at the Morreene Rd. clinic who have cognitive difficulties of various etiologies. The main focus of the clinic is to determine how medical, neurological and psychiatric co-morbidities contribute and affect a patient’s cognitive health. A typical day includes seeing patients from 8 am to 5 pm. If a neurology or medicine resident is present in the clinic, we also discuss the various stages of cognitive health which ranges from normal cognition to dementia.

How and when did you first get interested in neurology? What interests you the most about behavioral neurology?
I was introduced to the field of neurology by Dr. Mark Albers who is a behavioral neurologist. I was working as a research technician and at that time, he showed me how you can localize a lesion in the CNS with a detailed neurological examination which fascinated me. I then began working in his research lab after he joined the MassGeneral Institute for Neurodegenerative Disease (MIND) and became interested in conducting research in neurodegenerative diseases.

You recently completed a two-year fellowship in behavioral neurology at UCSF. What was the focus of that program? What’s one experience that stands out as particularly memorable or helpful for your current work?
The focus of the clinical behavioral fellowship was to study neurodegenerative processes from a clinical, neuropsychological, neuroradiological and neuropathological perspective. The one element from the fellowship that has helped me tremendously was to be able to examine many patients with various neurodegenerative processes and learn how to localize cognitive and behavioral difficulties to various areas of the brain.

You have a master’s degree in addition to your medical degree. What field was that degree in? How does your knowledge from that time complement your current work?
The knowledge from my master’s degree in biomedical science has served me well but more importantly, the experience during the master’s program helped me realize that pursuing a career in neurology with an interest in research was something I wanted to pursue.

What’s one thing you wished more patients (or their families) knew about Alzheimer’s and related memory diseases?
A few things come to mind. First, it is commonly asked “what is the difference between Alzheimer’s disease and dementia?” I discuss with the patient and family that dementia is a term defined as cognitive difficulties that impairs the patient’s ability to carry out iADLs and ADLs [Editor’s note: Instrumental Activities of Daily Living and Activities of Daily Living, respectively]. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia. For this reason, I typically state Alzheimer’s disease dementia in my notes. 

Secondly, families are afraid of what they may experience in the future when they are diagnosed with a neurodegenerative condition. I try and reinforce the fact that living with a neurodegenerative condition is a journey that they do not have to experience alone. The memory disorders clinic has several resources to help the patient and their caregiver with various problems that may arise. Lastly, neurodegenerative clinical trials are currently judged as failures or successes. The clinical trials should be viewed more as a “negative” instead of a “failed” clinical trial. In other words, the medication that was tried did not seek to modify the neurodegenerative disease course. This is helpful information since it allows us to rethink our hypothesis and investigate new avenues that will potentially lead to new drug discoveries to treat neurodegenerative conditions.

What other passions or hobbies do you have outside of the Department?
Enjoying the various landscapes North Carolina has to offer with my family. We have particularly enjoyed sliding rock near Asheville.

A Liu
Liu enjoys quality time with family in this photo.