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Macdonald to step down as chair of Neurology

Jul. 12, 2016, 9:28 AM

Robert Macdonald, M.D., Ph.D., Margaret and John Warner Professor of Neurological Education and chair of Neurology since 2001, will be stepping down as chair of the Department of Neurology at Vanderbilt University when his successor is recruited and joins the Vanderbilt faculty.

Robert Macdonald, M.D., Ph.D.
Robert Macdonald, M.D., Ph.D.

Macdonald, who is also professor of Pharmacology and Molecular Physiology & Biophysics, is stepping down to spend more time performing basic research on genetic epilepsies.

After receiving a degree in electrical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Macdonald completed two years of medical school at Case Western Reserve University, and then transferred to the University of Virginia (UVa), where he earned a Ph.D. in Neurophysiology in 1969 and served as an NIMH-supported postdoctoral fellow in Physiology (1969-70).

In 1970 he joined the UVa faculty as assistant professor of Physiology. Two years later, he enrolled in medical school there and earned his M.D. in 1973. He stayed at UVa for an internship in Medicine and a residency in Neurology, following which he also served as research assistant professor of Neurology and as a research associate in the Laboratory of Developmental Neurobiology at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

In 1978, Macdonald joined the faculty at the University of Michigan as an associate professor of Neurology, where he served as the Russell N. DeJong Professor of Neurology until 2001, when he moved to Vanderbilt to assume chairmanship of Vanderbilt’s Department of Neurology.

During his tenure as chair he recruited more than 100 new faculty members and increased the department’s faculty members from 18 to 86. He increased the adult neurology residency from six to 18 residents, the child neurology residency from three to nine residents and the neurology fellows from two to 15. Basic and clinical neuroscience grants increased from 7 to 76, and direct costs increased from $663,000 to $13 million and basic research space increased from around 3,000 square feet to 15,000 square feet during his time as chair.

“Under Dr. Macdonald’s leadership there have been extraordinary advancements in our clinical, training and research programs in the Department of Neurology. I want to express my appreciation for his many contributions that have led to an increase in the breadth, depth and quality of services our patients are able to receive, and for Bob’s longstanding commitment to discovery, creating an environment for his faculty to flourish as they work to solve the mysteries surrounding complex neurologic diseases,” said Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D., President and CEO of VUMC, and dean of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

Macdonald also led development of a new accredited sleep program headed by Beth Malow, M.D., and two hotel-based sleep laboratories, and greatly expanded the movement disorders, neuromuscular, epilepsy and stroke programs. The stroke program is now a Comprehensive Stroke Center headed by Howard Kirshner, M.D.

“Dr. Macdonald has steadily focused on what he and his department contribute to our health system, and to benefit our patients. For many of the programs he has help create, they are the only ones of their kind in this region and a beacon for adult and pediatric patients who need help with a host of diseases and disorders where no treatment is available elsewhere or without traveling great distances. For example, our programs caring for Parkinson’s disease and stroke are nationally known,” said C. Wright Pinson, MBA, M.D., Deputy CEO and Chief Health System Officer for VUMC. “I want to express my gratitude to Bob for his service as chair and the many contributions that have followed his tenure in this role.”

Macdonald also developed a cognitive disorders program and recruited Angela Jefferson, Ph.D., to develop the Vanderbilt Memory and Alzheimer’s Center and with David Charles, M.D., and Ken Gaines, M.D., MBA, developed a teleneurology program. He served as the Gerald M. Fenichel Professor of Neurology for three years prior to occupying the Warner chair.

“It has been a pleasure and an honor to serve as chair of the Department of Neurology for the past 15 years at a time of major expansion, Macdonald said. “We were able to grow the department starting with a core group of outstanding academic neurologists into a nationally competitive Neurology Department. Our faculty provides outstanding and comprehensive neurological care to our patients and has a group of outstanding and dedicated educators and clinical and basic science investigators. I look forward to watching the growth and development of our junior faculty and the maturation of the many clinical and educational programs that we have developed.”

Macdonald has been the recipient of numerous awards and honors. He served as president of the American Epilepsy Society (1997-1998) and the American Neurological Association (2009-2011). He received the S. Weir Mitchell Award and Lecture, the Cotzias Award and Lecture and the Wartenberg Award and Lecture given by the American Academy of Neurology. He received the Epilepsy Research Award of the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, the Basic Neuroscience Award of the American Epilepsy Society, and gave the Lennox Lecture to the American Epilepsy Society. He gave the University of Michigan Distinguished Faculty Lecture. He received the Clinical Teaching Award from the residents at the University of Michigan (1986) and Vanderbilt University (2002)

His research is focused on understanding the structure and function of gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) type A (GABAA) receptor channels, the major inhibitory neurotransmitter receptors in the brain, and the basic mechanisms of genetic epilepsies and anticonvulsant drugs.

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