URMC Physician to Lead Nation’s Largest Organization of Neurologists

May 31, 2007

University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) neurologist Robert Griggs, M.D., has been chosen to serve as the next president of the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) – the nation’s largest professional organization of neurologists. 

Griggs was elected to the position of president-elect at the association’s annual meeting in April and will begin his tenure as president in 2009. AAN, established in 1948, is an international association of more than 20,000 neurologists and neuroscience professionals.

Griggs is the Edward A. and Alma Vollertsen Rykenboer Professor of Neurophysiology and chair of the University of Rochester Department of Neurology.  He is also a professor of Medicine, Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, and Pediatrics, and a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, one of the highest honors that can be bestowed on a physician.

As chair of the University of Rochester’s Department of Neurology, Griggs has overseen a major expansion in education, clinical care, and research programs. Research funding to the department has skyrocketed from about $1 million per year when Griggs began leading the department in 1986 to more than $28 million last year. The department regularly ranks among the top five institutions nationally in the amount of research funding it receives from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and leads the nation in overall research funding for neurology departments from all sources. During Griggs’ tenure the University has become well known as an international leader in conducting clinical trials of potential new treatments for diseases like Parkinson’s and Huntington’s diseases.

“Under Berch Griggs’ leadership the Department of Neurology has grown from 22 to 90 full-time faculty members and has established itself as a national – if not worldwide – leader in many fields of neurological medicine and science,” said David S. Guzick, M.D., Ph.D., dean of the School of Medicine and Dentistry.  “It is fitting that his peers have chosen to recognize his significant contributions to the field with this distinct honor.”

Griggs is recognized as a leading authority on a variety of neuromuscular disorders.  He helped develop treatment for the most common form of muscular dystrophy and he is currently leading a large study to evaluate new ways to treat the disease.

Griggs is also an expert in a rare neurological condition called periodic paralysis and is sought out by patients from around the world for treatment of the disorder.  Griggs and his colleagues at URMC were part of the team that discovered the genetic causes of periodic paralysis – an inherited disorder that leaves patients unpredictably paralyzed for minutes or hours at a time – more than a decade ago.  Three years ago, Griggs was chosen by the NIH to lead the largest study ever of the disease and has established a network of 14 centers across the United States, Canada, and Europe to examine possible treatments for the condition.

Periodic paralysis is one of a family or rare neurological conditions caused by abnormal cell channels or gates that regulate the movement of crucial chemicals such as sodium, calcium, and potassium in our cells.  In fact, it was Griggs who, in the 1990s, coined the word “channelopathies” to describe these conditions.  In 2003, the NIH tapped Griggs to lead one of seven national centers investigating especially rare diseases.  Griggs’ center at the University focuses on three channelopathies: periodic paralysis, episodic ataxia, and nondystrophic myotonias. 

Since 1998 Griggs has chaired the executive committee of the Muscle Study Group, an international consortium of investigators focused on developing new treatments for neuromuscular disease and on the training of young investigators. For 36 years he also has helped direct the Neuromuscular Disease Center at Strong Memorial Hospital.

Griggs is also neurology editor of Cecil Textbook of Medicine and an editor of Cecil Essentials of Medicine – used to teach nearly all medical students in the nation – and has received numerous awards for teaching including the American Academy of Neurology A.B. Baker Award and Lecture for Excellence in Teaching. 

Griggs graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Delaware and received his M.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1964.  He arrived in Rochester as a resident in neurology in 1968, was appointed to the University’s faculty in 1971, and since 1986 has served as chair of the Department of Neurology.  He is a fellow of the American Academy of Neurology and the American College of Physicians, and is a national vice president of the Muscular Dystrophy Association. He recently stepped down as editor-in-chief of the Academy’s prominent scientific journal Neurology, a position he held from 1996 to 2007.

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