On August 4, I was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Janice Wiesman, M.D. (BS ’80; MS ’84). She was another casualty of this most dreadful COVID-19 pandemic and further evidence, if it were needed, that the most vital people in the very prime of their lives are susceptible to this horrible disease. Her loss to the scientific community and the neuroscience family here in Rochester is enormous. More than anything else, her loss to her family, her husband John Mannion, her daughter Hannah, her “brother” David Higgins, Ph.D. (BA ’80; MS ’82; PhD ’87), and all who loved her, is immeasurable. On behalf of the University of Rochester neuroscience community, we celebrate an academic life superbly lived. It was truly an honor to know her.
My journey to meet Janice began in early 2018, over a glass of wine with University alumnus and a long-time supporter David Higgins, Ph.D. He mentioned his dear friend and classmate Janice Wiesman and shared details of her incredible connection to the University and storied history of cutting-edge clinical neuroscience work.
Later that year, Janice and I met for what was supposed to be a quick cup of coffee in downtown Manhattan – near New York University where Janice worked as a clinical associate professor of Neurology – that turned into a very long lunch. She and I traded stories about the extraordinary cast of characters that built the University’s neuroscience programs. It was clear that Janice had truly transformative experiences as a student in Rochester.
Janice graduated from the University of Rochester’s very first undergraduate Neuroscience class in 1980. As this was the first undergraduate Neuroscience program in the nation, Janice was part of a trailblazing tradition at the University right from the start. Janice talked of the huge influence that Bob Joynt M.D., the founding chair of the Department of Neurology, had on her as she pursued an M.S. in Neuroscience following her undergraduate studies. She also cited the key role his influence played in shaping her incredible career over the following decades as she went on to perform seminal research on neuromuscular diseases and in establishing clinical trials for the life threatening disease amyloid polyneuropathy. Janice most recently held a position as neurologist for the Boston University Amyloidosis Treatment and Research Center. In 2016, she published a book aimed squarely at providing practical advice and solutions for the millions of people who suffer from peripheral neuropathies, Peripheral Neuropathy: What It Is and What You Can Do to Feel Better.
In November 2019, Janice and I would meet again when she returned to the Medical Center to give a Grand Rounds for the Neurology Department. Janice made a huge impression on all who gathered that day, and after giving a superb lecture in the morning she graciously joined the students of our Neuroscience Graduate Program for an informal lunch and question-and-answer session. She was so keen to hear of all the work going on and amazed by the span of expertise and research topics on display. There was spirited discussion about research, the translation of bench findings into meaningful solutions for patients, and of what it was to be a successful clinical researcher as a woman scientist. It was a true pleasure to witness this daughter of the University’s Neuroscience Department return to her roots, and provide such inspiration to our newest generation of neuroscientists.
This year was supposed to be a celebration for Janice and the Neuroscience Department at the University – her 40th undergraduate reunion was scheduled for this fall. We will miss celebrating with Janice but will celebrate her, her legacy, and the life-changing impression her work has left on so many. We send our deepest condolences to her family and friends.
Originally published in NEUROSCIENCE Volume 7.