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Leading ALS Researcher and Former AAN President Theodore Munsat, MD, Dies



Distinguished neuromuscular specialist and former AAN President Theodore “Ted” Leon Munsat, MD, died Nov. 22 in his home in Waltham, MA. Dr. Munsat was known worldwide as a leader in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) research and neurology education. He was 83 years old and an emeritus professor of neurology at Tufts University School of Medicine at the time of his death.

In addition to serving as president of the AAN (1989–91), Dr. Munsat helped launch the AAN's continuing education publication, CONTINUUM. He also held the role of chairman of the World Federation of Neurology (WFN) ALS Research Group, and participated in WFN's Research and Education Committees. He worked with the WFN in many developing countries to improve neurology practice and education.

Michael Swash, MD, FRCP, MRCPath, emeritus professor of neurology at Queen Mary's School of Medicine and Dentistry at the University of London, who succeeded Dr. Munsat as head of the ALS Research Group at WFN, remembered his colleague as “a great personal support.” Dr. Munsat, he said, “was instrumental in seeing that we needed diagnostic criteria for ALS in order to conduct research, and he organized two important consensus meetings to address this — in fact, we are still chasing this issue!” At the ALS meetings, Dr. Munsat mentored many of the young international neurologists, and after leaving the ALS research field, “he directed his energies to teaching neurology internationally, an important but somewhat undervalued role in a world dominated by molecular biological research. Everyone relied on him, and he never let anyone down,” Dr. Swash told Neurology Today.

Another colleague, J.M.B.V. De Jong, MD, PhD, an emeritus professor of neurology at the University of Amsterdam, said Dr. Munsat was able to “coax the WFN ALS group to do the necessary homework of establishing reliable diagnostic criteria and developing appropriate methods for clinical trials” because of his “great dedication and leadership.” On many occasions, he added, Dr. Munsat was the gracious host for his WFN colleagues at conferences in the US and Europe. “I remain grateful for his inviting me to join the WFN group and remember him with fondness,” he told Neurology Today.

Dr. Munsat left a significant imprint on neurologists in the US, as well. When Hiroshi Mitsumoto, MD, DSc, Wesley J. Howe professor of neurology and director of the Eleanor and Lou Gehrig MDA/ALS Research Center at The Neurological Institute of New York, was still a Muscular Dystrophy Association neuromuscular research fellow at Tufts New England Medical Center in 1979 under Dr. Walter Bradley, Dr. Ted Munsat was the chairman of the department. “When I met with Ted, I was so impressed by his congenial, easygoing, and unassuming personality. I loved working in the department.” Dr. Mitsumoto recalled spending much of his time initially with the animal models of motor neuron disease.

In the second year of fellowship, Dr. Munsat gave him an opportunity to work in their multidisciplinary ALS clinic, one of the earliest such clinics. “On a few occasions, he even asked me to direct the clinic. I realized that the harder I worked on the animal model, the more my interest in and commitment to human patients with ALS grew. As soon as I moved back to Cleveland, I emulated their multidisciplinary ALS Clinic and established my own clinic. That was what and how Ted taught me,” Dr. Mitsumoto told Neurology Today.

Some years later, when Dr. Mitsumoto was offered the opportunity to edit a book (“ALS: A Guide for Patients and Families”), he immediately asked Dr. Munsat to be a co-editor. “So, when I was later asked to publish a new edition, naturally I asked him to co-edit the book again. He was delighted, but graciously advised me that I was good enough to do the job by myself. Dr. Munsat has always been my teacher, colleague, and friend. I will miss him,” Dr. Mitsumoto said.

Dr. Munsat majored in chemistry as an undergraduate at the University of Michigan. In 1957, he received his medical degree from the University of Vermont, and then completed an internship at Mt. Sinai Hospital in NY, followed by a neurology residency at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center. Subsequently, Dr. Munsat served in the navy for two years, and in 1963, he accepted a position at UCLA Medical Center, where he became one of the pioneers in developing histochemistry of skeletal muscle. In 1970, Dr. Munsat served as professor of neurology and director of the University of Southern California Muscle Disorders clinic.

He took a year-long sabbatical in 1975 to work with Professor John Walton in the UK, and returned to the US to accept his new role as chairman of the neurology department at Tufts-New England Medical Center, a position he held until 1982 when he stepped down to focus on research in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and other academic endeavors.

Over the course of his career, Dr. Munsat published more than 200 scientific articles and books on topics ranging from ALS to post-polio syndrome to quantification of neurological deficits. He was the recipient of the A.B. Baker Award for Education from the AAN, the Sheila Essey Award for ALS Research, and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the WFN Research Group on Neuromuscular Diseases.

The neurologist was also a passionate outdoorsman who enjoyed sailing, skiing, and camping. He made his own maple syrup and apple cider, raised sheep, built furniture, and enjoyed tending to his vegetable garden.

Dr. Munsat is survived by his wife, Carla; his daughter, Amy, and husband Harry Flamm; his son, Peter, and wife Lisa; his brother, Stanley; his sister, Michelle, and husband Rick Foard; six grandchildren, Lucy, Lila, Jesse, Alex, Hallie, and Jake; and many nieces and nephews. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that contributions be made to the World Federation of Neurology (e-mail or the Vermont Land Trust (