January 26, 2001

Macdonald to chair Neurology

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Dr. Robert L. Macdonald

Macdonald to chair Neurology

Dr. Robert L. Macdonald, Russell N. DeJong Professor of Neurology and professor of Physiology at the University of Michigan School of Medicine, has been named VUMC’s chair of Neurology, replacing Dr. Gerald M. Fenichel, who is stepping down after 32 years as chair of the department.

Macdonald is an internationally recognized investigator, who will bring years of basic and clinical neurological research experience to his new position. His research focuses on the molecular and electrical basis for epilepsy and the mechanisms of action of antiepileptic drugs.

“Vanderbilt is very fortunate to have recruited one of the nation’s most respected academic neurologists,” said Dr. Harry R. Jacobson, vice chancellor for Health Affairs. “We are convinced that under his leadership, Vanderbilt will enhance our impact in neuroscience, and help us achieve our vision for bench to bedside discovery in the brain sciences.”

Dr. John E. Chapman, dean of VUMC School of Medicine, agreed with Jacobson on the recruitment of Macdonald. “Dr. Macdonald brings experience, both comprehensive and specific in neurology and neurological sciences to Vanderbilt,” he said.

Macdonald cited several reasons why he chose Vanderbilt. “VUMC is undergoing a major expansion of research into the biological basis for human diseases and their treatment and in neuroscience research,” he said. “It’s a unique opportunity to recruit a substantial group of physician scientists with the objective to expand our understanding of the function of the brain and the basis for human brain disorders and to develop new treatments for these disorders.”

Lee E. Limbird, Ph.D., associate vice chancellor for Research, shares the excitement of Jacobson and Chapman on Macdonald’s appointment. “He will play a pivotal role in linking basic research with solving clinical enigmas to improve treatment of a number of neurological and degenerative diseases,” she said.

Dr. Charlie Beattie, professor and chair of Anesthesiology, chaired the search committee comprised of VUMC faculty from a wide range of disciplines.

Macdonald, who begins July 1, said his plans for the department are to expand the excellent neurological clinical care and clinical research at Vanderbilt developed under the leadership of Dr. Fenichel. “I am interested in expanding clinical neurology programs including epilepsy, sleep medicine, neuromuscular disease and degenerative brain diseases and in expanding fundamental neuroscience research into neurological diseases at Vanderbilt,” he added. “I look forward to establishing a research enterprise that will be nationally recognized and will also foster collaboration with the strong basic scientists and with other clinical departments at Vanderbilt.”

Macdonald earned his Ph.D. in Neurophysiology from the University of Virginia in 1969, and his M.D. in 1973. He received his undergraduate degree in 1966 from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in electrical engineering.

Macdonald served as a National Institute of Mental Health postdoctoral fellow in the department of Physiology at the University of Virginia in 1969 and 1970. In 1970, he accepted his first faculty position as an assistant professor in Physiology at the University of Virginia, and after returning to complete his medical degree, he served a residency in the Department of Neurology at Virginia. In 1978, Macdonald accepted a position as associate professor of Neurology at the University of Michigan School of Medicine. In 1981, he was promoted to professor of Neurology and in 1995 was named Russell N. DeJong Professor of Neurology.

Macdonald has had continuous funding from the National Institutes of Health since 1979, and currently holds three NIH R01 grants and serves as co-principal investigator on two training grants. He is a managing editor of the journal Epilepsy Research, an executive editor of the journal Neuropharmacology, and a member of many scientific and neurological editorial boards. His accomplishments include: the awarding of the prestigious Cotzias Lecture and Award, the highest neuroscience research award bestowed by the American Academy of Neurology; the Lennox Lecture and the Epilepsy Research Award, the highest lecture and award bestowed by the American Epilepsy Society; and the University of Michigan Biomedical Research Council Distinguished Lecturer, an honorary annual peer-selected lecture. He has held numerous nationally prominent positions in epilepsy research and academic neurology, including serving as president of the American Epilepsy Society.

Macdonald and his wife Cathy, a psychiatric social worker, have three children and two grandchildren. Macdonald is an enthusiastic sports fan, and he and his wife are avid gardeners.