Stanley van den Noort, MD, respected internationally as a leader in neuroscience and pioneer in multiple sclerosis care and research, died Sept. 16 in Tustin, CA, at age 79. The cause was complications of a brain injury he had suffered two years earlier, according to a family statement.
Dr. van den Noort was professor of neurology at University of California-Irvine (UCI), and was still practicing at the time of his death. His practice, while not on campus, was part of UCI. He was also a former dean of medicine at the school.
“Dr. van den Noort was the most caring and conscientious physician I have ever observed,” said Avery Tyler Pittluck, MD, associate clinical professor of neurology at UCI School of Medicine, who worked with Dr. van den Noort since 1981.
“He had an unparalleled ‘open door’ approach with respect to all of his patients all of the time — they felt free to drop by on him at home at all times with any question or problem.”
“I have a vivid recollection of a mutual patient, a 20-year-old woman who was diagnosed with MS only days after her marriage engagement. She became so alarmed she decided to cancel the wedding,” Dr. Pittluck continued. “Dr. van den Noort invited her and her fiancé to his house that weekend and reassured all. The wedding went forward on schedule. She was so touched by this she became a physical therapist and dedicated her life to treating patients with multiple sclerosis.”
Dr. van den Noort was born in Lynn, MA, the son of an immigrant father from Holland. He received his medical degree in 1954 from Harvard Medical School, and developed an interest in MS while completing his residency training at Boston City Hospital. For two years he served as an officer in the US Navy, then in 1960 he joined the neurology faculty at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.
In 1970, Dr. van den Noort moved to the newly created College of Medicine at UCI. As professor and chair of neurology, his research focused on identifying abnormal antibody responses in the brain and spinal cord in MS patients, as well as discovering early diagnostic methods.
He established a flourishing practice, attracting patients from throughout the nation, and also built one of the most successful MS clinics in the country at UCI.
Dr. van den Noort “was the best diagnostician of neurological disorders I have ever known,” said Edward (Ted) J. Quilligan, MD, Professor Emeritus of Obstetrics and Gynecology and former dean of the School of Medicine and vice chancellor of health sciences at UCI. Dr. Quilligan had known Dr. van den Noort since their early days working at Case Western Reserve.
“He diagnosed my wife's polymyositis rheumatica instantly and treated her with steroids as any good neurologist would, but he used large doses of steroids every other day so she had none of the side effects of the treatment and she got better instantly,” said Dr. Quilligan. “He was a brilliant man, a great leader, and a good friend.”
Under Dr. van den Noort's supervision as dean of the medical school from 1973 to 1985, UCI College of Medicine became a nationally ranked research and treatment center. He oversaw the construction of an on-campus facility called Gottschalk Medical Plaza, which housed clinics for diabetes, family medicine, pain management, and weight management, and built the first medical sciences building on the campus.
His effort to establish a teaching hospital on the main campus, however, was thwarted by local interests during his 12-year tenure. After a long dispute, then-California Governor Jerry Brown blocked the funds that had been allocated for construction at UCI, and the university gave up the battle.
After his deanship ended in 1985, Dr. van den Noort continued his practice and teaching at UCI. He also was an advocate for neurological research, collaborating with James Roosevelt (Franklin Roosevelt's son and a former congressman from California) to persuade Congress to declare the 1990s as the Decade of the Brain.
A member of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society for over 20 years, he helped to establish the Society's Clinical Affiliations Program, which offers comprehensive care through more than 130 MS centers.
As the first chief medical officer of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and chair of the Medical Advisory Board between 1997 and 2001, he was the driving force behind the Society's establishment of its Disease Management Consensus position statement in 1998, urging the importance of beginning treatment with a disease-modifying therapy once an MS diagnosis is confirmed. The document became the basis for supporting insurance coverage of the (then) new drugs and for the strategy of early proactive treatment.
His multiple honors and distinctions included the 2008 UCI Medal, the campus's highest honor. Dr. van den Noort was a prolific author of scientific papers and books, including a definitive overview of management techniques for physicians treating people with MS, entitled Multiple Sclerosis in Clinical Practice (Demos Medical Publishing, 2000).
“I have never met such an extraordinary person such as Dr. Stanley van den Noort before, and I suspect I will never again,” said Dr. Pittluck.
Dr. van den Noort is survived by his wife of 55 years, June; his children, Susanne, Eric, Peter, Kathy, and Betsy; eight grandchildren; and one great-grandson.
Donations may be made in his honor to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Pacific South Chapter; the van den Noort Neurology Chair Research Endowment Fund 7152; or the van den Noort Endowed Chair Fund 7369.