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Clifford Shults, Renowned Parkinson Disease Researcher, Dies at 56

Clifford W. Shults, MD, a neurology professor recognized for his studies of movement disorders and Parkinson disease, died Feb. 7 of complications from cancer, at age 56.

Since 1985, Dr. Shults was professor of neurosciences at the University of California-San Diego (UCSD) School of Medicine and a neurologist at the Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System. He helped establish the Veterans Affairs San Diego Medical Center as part of the national network of Parkinson's Disease Research, Education and Clinical Centers, and served as chief of the neurology service there for nine years.

Dr. Shults trained in internal medicine at UCSD and in neurology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. While completing a fellowship at the NIH, he began studying movement disorders and the roles of neuropeptides in the brain. He was the first researcher to demonstrate a successful method using antioxidant Co-Q10, an over-the-counter supplement, to slow progressive deterioration of function in patients with early-stage Parkinson disease. In a 2002 study, coenzyme Q10 was shown to be safe and well-tolerated (Arch Neurol 2002;59:1541–1550).


Dr. Clifford Shults (1950–2007)

“Dr. Shults always conducted his research with the utmost scientific integrity,” said David D. Song, MD, PhD, co-director of the UCSD Parkinson's Disease Research Center, in a news statement from UCSD. “His groundbreaking approaches to the study of Parkinson's disease gave thousands of patients hope. He was extremely hard-working, but always generous with his time to me and other colleagues in the department, and we will miss his leadership.”

“I especially respect his courage in the face of a terrible illness, which he faced while continuing to work in his laboratory and carry out his duties as a professor right down to the end of his life,” Henry Powell, MD, head of the division of neuropathology at UCSD School of Medicine, told Neurology Today. “His dignity, sense of commitment, and personal courage were appreciated by all of us who knew him.”

As part of a five-year, $7 million grant from the NIH, Dr. Shults coordinated a study of Multiple Systems Atrophy (MSA), a progressive neurodegenerative disorder characterized by symptoms of autonomic nervous system failure and tremor and rigidity, slurred speech, or loss of muscle coordination. The MSA study involved researchers at 12 sites around the US.

Dr. Shults is survived by his wife, Ellen Koutsky Shults; daughter, Sarah; and son, Andrew.