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Steven Goldman to Lead University’s Department of Neurology

Thursday, September 04, 2008

After an extensive national search, a neurologist who is a leading international figure in efforts to use stem cells to treat human disease has been tapped to lead the Department of Neurology at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

Steven Goldman, M.D., Ph.D., a professor of Neurology who has been with the University since 2003, will become the Edward A. and Alma Vollertsen Rykenboer Professor of Neurophysiology Chair, Department of Neurology within the School of Medicine and Dentistry beginning October 1. He will lead a department known nationally for its research and the education it provides its students and young doctors.

“Dr. Goldman’s efforts will be central to the advancement of the field of neuromedicine, an area we’ve targeted in our strategic plan for significant growth and future investment in faculty and resources,” said Bradford C. Berk, M.D., Ph.D., Medical Center CEO. “His experience as an outstanding researcher and clinician is a perfect fit for the position.”

The department that Goldman will lead ranks among the nation’s best in terms of research funding received from the National Institutes of Health. Rochester is highly sought after by new doctors seeking training in neurology, and the education that its neurologists receive serves as a model for medical schools nationwide. Its neurologists created the largest network of physicians working cooperatively across the globe to study potential new treatments for conditions like Huntington’s and Parkinson’s diseases.

Goldman follows in the footsteps of Robert “Berch” Griggs, M.D., who has led the department since 1986. During Griggs’ tenure, research funding in the department skyrocketed from about $1 million to approximately $28 million each year, and faculty size quadrupled. Griggs is continuing as professor of Neurology, and next year he will serve as president of the American Academy of Neurology, the nation’s largest professional organization of neurologists.

“My predecessor, Berch Griggs, has done a spectacular job building a clinical operation that is wonderful in every sense,” said Goldman. “No matter what the condition – epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, stroke – there will definitely be a very good neurologist available to see the patient. We take that for granted here in Rochester, but it’s very unusual. It’s a significant strength we have.”

Goldman plans to build on that strength by speeding the time it takes new research findings to make their way into clinical practice to improve patients’ lives. That’s been a priority of Goldman’s since he began his research career 30 years ago.

“Dr. Goldman is one of the rare 'triple threats' in academic medicine today: a world-class researcher, an excellent clinician, and a sought-after lecturer and teacher. In this era of translational medicine, his ability to work at the interface between the clinic and the laboratory will serve both him and the University well,” said Nina F. Schor, M.D., Ph.D., a neurologist and pediatrician-in-chief of Golisano Children’s Hospital at Strong. Schor led the committee that guided the search for the position.

Goldman is internationally recognized for advancing our understanding of stem cells and their use to treat human disease. He began his studies of the brain’s stem cells more than 25 years ago, and his doctoral thesis in 1983 was the first report of neurogenesis – the production of new brain cells – in the adult brain and opened the door to the idea of neural stem cells as the source.

Goldman has created new ways to isolate stem cells and then re-create the molecular signals that direct their development as part of research that aims to use the cells to treat a variety of conditions. In studies of both Parkinson’s and Huntington’s diseases, the Goldman team has been able to use stem cells to replenish the exact type of brain cells that are lost in these diseases. Recently his team identified the molecule that causes a rare type of brain tumor known as a neurocytoma – the first time a specific stem cell has been discovered at the root of any specific type of brain cancer. He also studies rare children’s disorders known as pediatric leukodystrophies and has effectively cured mice of a disease similar to one that is currently untreatable in people. The team hopes to begin a clinical trial of the treatment in sick children within two years.

The Goldman group’s work is currently supported by more than two dozen agencies and foundations from around the globe.

“Dr. Goldman is particularly impressive in his grasp of the complex clinical, educational and research issues confronting the individual divisions composing the Department of Neurology,” said David S. Guzick, M.D., Ph.D., dean of the School of Medicine and Dentistry. “Building on the path-breaking progress made by the department under the founding chair, Dr. Robert Joynt, and continuing for the past 22 years under Dr. Griggs, Dr. Goldman will seek to make a mark for the department and the University in translational, first-in-human treatments for a spectrum of neurological diseases. Based on his level of commitment to this task, and his considerable talent and energy, I have no doubt that he and the faculty will be successful in achieving this goal.”

A native of Philadelphia, Goldman earned his bachelor’s degree with honors in biology and psychology from the University of Pennsylvania, his medical degree at Cornell University, and his doctoral degree at Rockefeller University. From 1988 to 2003 he served on the faculty of Cornell University Medical College, where he was the Nathan Cummings Professor of Neurology and Neuroscience and where he continues to serve as adjunct professor.

Goldman will continue as chief of the department’s Division of Cell and Gene Therapy and as professor of Neurological Surgery. He has also been the Dean Zutes Chair in Biology of the Aging Brain in the Center for Translational Neuromedicine, which he co-directs along with Maiken Nedergaard, M.D., D.M.Sc.

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