Birbeck Honored for Work Combating Malaria in Africa

Oct. 25, 2017

Gretchen BirbeckUniversity of Rochester Medical Center neurologist Gretchen L. Birbeck, M.D., M.P.H., has been recognized by the American Neurological Association (ANA) with one of its 2017 scientific awards for her research on the neurological damage associated with malaria in sub-Saharan Africa.   Birbeck divides her time between Rochester and health projects in Africa. 

The ANA, a professional organization representing the nation’s top academic neurologists and neuroscientists, announced it 2017 scientific awards at its annual meeting last week in San Diego.  The awards recognize leaders in academic neurology and neuroscience who have exemplified excellence in a number of areas, including stroke, dementia and neurodegenerative disease.

Birbeck was recognized with the ANA’s Soriano Lectureship, which was established in 1987 by ANA member Victor Soriano and his wife to provide a “brilliant lecture delivered by an outstanding scientist” who is a member of the Association.

During her presentation, Birbeck described research to blunt neurological consequences –behavioral disorders, cognitive impairment, and seizures – that can often accompany cases of pediatric cerebral malaria.  The disease is a major global health concern and impacts approximately 400,000 children in Africa each year.  

Birbeck is leading a new research project in Zambia and Malawi that will see if more aggressive efforts to control the fever associated with malaria with drugs like acetaminophen and ibuprofen can thwart the brain damage associated with the disease.   Birbeck’s prior work with hospitals, universities, and government health ministries in these countries has made this type of research possible and the findings from this study could possible point to new treatments for conditions such as stroke and traumatic brain injury.

Founded in 1875, the American Neurological Association is the premier professional society of academic neurologists and neuroscientists devoted to the understanding of diseases of the nervous system and the profession’s ability to treat them.  The Association’s monthly Annals of Neurology was first published in 1977 and is considered one of the world’s leading medical journals on diseases of the central nervous system.