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WORLD-RENOWNED PARKINSON DISEASE SPECIALIST, DR. WILLIAM C. KOLLER, DIES

William C. Koller, MD, PhD, a widely-recognized expert in Parkinson disease (PD), died on October 3 at the age of 60 from sudden cardiac problems.

Dr. Koller is credited for promoting deep brain stimulation as a treatment for Parkinson disease. As a Professor of Neurology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), Dr. Koller worked with Associate Professor Richard Murrow, MD, to develop a high-quality deep brain stimulation program at the university, said Frank M. Longo, MD, PhD, H. Houston Merritt Professor and Chair of the UNC Department of Neurology.

Dr. Koller authored over 500 research articles on PD and other movement disorders and, along with Ray Watts, MD, Chairman of the Department of Neurology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, co-edited a leading textbook, Movement Disorders: Neurologic Principles and Practice (McGraw-Hill, 1997).

Dr. Longo said the entire neurology department at UNC was delighted when Dr. Koller joined their staff last year. “He brought a great deal of energy to all of his activities and provided an exceptional degree of support to junior faculty and residents,” he said.

Dr. Koller had previously served as Director of the Movement Disorders Program at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City for two years; he had helped steer the program towards a more patient-focused agenda.

In fact, despite his career success, patients were his main priority and he routinely gave them his cell phone number, said fellow PD expert Matthew Stern, MD. Many of his patients included internationally famous people, such as former US Attorney General Janet Reno.

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“Patients just worshipped him,” said Dr. Stern, Professor of Neurology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in Philadelphia. “He had a zest for life, a sparkle in his eye, a general love for his patients and colleagues. He had a tremendous sense of humor that was infectious, a delight to be around.”

His amiable personality extended beyond the hospital and university. “He was equally as comfortable befriending a patient, a colleague, or a waiter at a restaurant,” said Dr. Stern, who had known Dr. Koller for the last 20 years.

Dr. Koller is survived by his wife, Vicki, and three sons, Todd, Chad, and Kyle.

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EPILEPSY EXPERT, DR. JOHN R. GATES, DIES

John R. Gates, MD, an active AAN member, died on September 28 at the age of 54 from cancer of the brain stem.

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Dr. Gates is best known for his work on the diagnosis and treatment of epilepsy, and specifically, as a national expert on brain-wave mapping. He authored hundreds of articles on this topic and was a renowned lecturer and teacher. Just before his death, he was awarded the J. Kiffin Penry Award for Excellence in Epilepsy Care by the American Epilepsy Society. In 1990 Dr. Gates co-founded the Minnesota Epilepsy Group in St. Paul, a collaborative effort with United Hospital and Children's Hospitals and Clinics, and served as the first Medical Director of the John Nasseff Neuroscience Institute of United Hospital.

Dr. Gates was also a dedicated AAN member who served on its Medical Economics and Management Subcommittee, Member Demographics Subcommittee, and as Treasurer on the AEI Board of Directors. He was particularly passionate about his work with the AAN Legislative Affairs Committee, and often traveled to Washington, DC, to advocate for the needs of people with epilepsy.

AAN President Thomas Swift, MD, said that upon meeting Dr. Gates several years ago at the Medical College of Georgia Epilepsy Center in Augusta, he was immediately impressed with his energy, enthusiasm, and knowledge of epilepsy. “He was a tireless supporter of the needs of patients and the necessity to have excellent facilities for their care,” he said.

Mark S. Yerby, MD, Associate Clinical Professor of Neurology, Public Health, and Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Oregon Health Sciences University and Chair of the Legislative Affairs Committee, noted that Dr. Gates' testimony before officials of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services helped open and expand the Medicare prescription formulary to a wide selection of antiepileptic drugs.

Dr. Yerby pointed out that Dr. Gates succeeded in life despite some early obstacles growing up. He was brought up in Trenton, NJ, by his grandparents and, shortly after his grandmother's death, his grandfather suffered the first of several strokes. “Although he was only a teenager, John cared for his grandfather until his grandfather's death,” said Dr. Yerby, who added that Dr. Gates attended Harvard University after being tapped by A Better Chance, a program that connects bright but disadvantaged youth with some of the nation's top colleges. Ever active in his community, he later served as a mentor for that program in Edina, MN, and also enjoyed being an Assistant Scoutmaster for the Boy Scouts of America, a position he held until his death.

Even throughout the term of his illness, Dr. Gates' dedication to medicine remained strong; he participated in clinical trials with hopes for a recovery and to advance knowledge of treatments for others.

“He continued his work with customary courage, conviction, and good humor and set an example for the rest of us to follow,” said Dr. Swift.

Dr. Gates is survived by his wife, Rita; and his children, Jason, Rachel, and Stuart.

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THREE NEUROSCIENTISTS AWARDED NIH DIRECTOR'S PIONEER AWARD

Three neuroscientists were among the 13 researchers tapped in September to receive the 2005 NIH Director's Pioneer Award, which supports scientists who take innovative approaches to major challenges in biomedical research. Hollis T. Cline, PhD, Erich D. Jarvis, PhD, and Thomas A. Rando, MD, PhD, will each receive $500,000 per year for five years.

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The Pioneer Award program began in 2004 with the goal of funding scientists whose ideas have immense potential, but who may not qualify for other NIH grants because they may be too novel, span too diverse a range of disciplines, or be at a stage too early to fare well in the traditional peer-review process.

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Dr. Cline, Professor and Director of Research at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York, studies neural connectivity in the brain. Dr. Cline has developed a system to assess cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying plasticity in response to visual stimulation in living animals. She plans to use her award to launch a large-scale project to understand the architecture, development, and plasticity of brain circuits. Dr. Cline also serves on the Board of Scientific Counselors of the NINDS.

Dr. Jarvis, Associate Professor in the Department of Neurobiology at Duke University Medical Center, combines molecular, behavioral, electrophysiological, and computational tools to decipher vocal learning, using songbirds as a model system. He will use his award to study the genetic machinery underlying vocal learning, with the hope that it could pave the way for repairing vocalization disorders in humans.

Dr. Rando is Associate Professor in the Department of Neurology and Neurological Sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine and Director of the Geriatric Research, Education, and Clinical Center at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Palo Alto, CA. Dr. Rando draws from the fields of stem cell biology, the biology of aging, and bioengineering to understand the molecular basis for the age-related decline in the body's ability to repair its tissues. He will use his award to study how to enhance tissue repair and regeneration, which may have been weakened because of aging, injury, or disease.

The complete list of awardees is available at http://nihroadmap.nih.gov/pioneer/Recipients05.aspx.

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$15 MILLION DONATION LAUNCHES NEW MAYO CLINIC RESEARCH PROGRAM

The Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, received a private donation of $15 million in September to launch a program that will research therapies for diseases of the nervous system, including Alzheimer disease, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson disease, stroke, and spinal cord injury.

The program, which will be supported by Mayo Clinic's Discover, Innovation, and Investment Fund, will focus on applying research discoveries to the treatment of patients. Of the gift, $8 million will be used to test treatment approaches that have already been shown by discovery research to be ready for human trials; $3 million has been dedicated to basic research; and $4 million will go towards the endowment of two Mayo Medical School professorships.

“Typically it takes many years for a discovery to move out of the lab and into the clinical setting,” said John Noseworthy, MD, Professor and Chairman of Neurology at the Mayo Clinic, in a news release. “We believe this additional funding will help accelerate that process by giving support to researchers who are working directly with patients. These physicians can use the knowledge they gain from day-to-day interaction with their patients to figure out how a discovery may eventually have application to patient care.”

Through a peer-reviewed process, Mayo Clinic researchers from multiple disciplines will be eligible to apply for a grant from the Investment Fund.

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TWO LEADING MOVEMENT DISORDERS EXPERTS SHARE AWARD FOR RESEARCH

Last month, former AAN President Stanley Fahn, MD, and Zbigniew K. Wszolek, MD, were both awarded the Annemarie Opprecht-Foundation's Parkinson Award for 2005. The foundation's prize committee grants the award every three years to the authors of the two most outstanding papers published in Parkinson disease (PD) research.

Dr. Fahn, H. Houston Merritt Professor of Neurology and Director of the Center for Parkinson's Disease and Other Movement Disorders at Columbia University, received the award for his paper on the ELLDOPA project published in the New England Journal of Medicine (2004; 351:2498-2508). In response to questions about when levodopa should be started – because of concerns that the medicine itself might cause further damage to the brain cells impaired in the disease – Dr. Fahn and co-investigators reported that the drug does not hasten the clinical progression of the disease and may even slow it down. Dr. Fahn is also Scientific Director of the Parkinson's Disease Foundation and served as AAN President from 2001 to 2003.

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Dr. Wszolek, Professor of Neurology at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine in Jacksonville, FL, was recognized for his paper in Neuron, which identified a causative gene, LRRK2, for familial parkinsonism (2004; 444:601-607). Investigators used high-resolution recombination mapping and candidate gene sequencing in 46 families, and found six disease-segregating mutations in the gene LRRK2. Dr. Wszolek and his team implicated LRRK2 in a dominant, late-onset form of the disorder known as PARK-8 linked Parkinson disease.

The Annemarie Opprecht-Foundation was established in 1998 in Switzerland to promote Parkinson disease research on an international level.

©2005 American Academy of Neurology