Patient Care

Neurologist James Garbern, M.D., Ph.D. Dies at 58

Nov. 16, 2011

James Garbern, M.D., Ph.D., a Professor of Neurology, died on November 10 after a battle with cancer.  He was 58. 

A candlelight memorial service will be held tomorrow, November 17, at 5:30 PM in the Garvey Conference Room (5-5220) in the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC).

Garbern was a specialist in leukodystrophies and hereditary neurological disorders.  He obtained his M.D. and Ph.D. degrees from Baylor College of Medicine. Garbern completed his clinical training in adult neurology at the University of Washington, after which he did his fellowship at the National Institutes of Health, where he studied the molecular genetics of nervous system development.

His subsequent research and clinical work at the University of Pennsylvania, Wayne State University, and URMC focused on human genetic disorders of the central nervous system, particularly diseases that affect myelin.  Garbern was an internationally-recognized expert in a rare pediatric leukodystrophy called Pelizaeus-Merzbacher disease (PMD), and travelled the world to see patients with the condition. 

Garbern was a member of the URMC’s Center for Translational Neuromedicine, as well as the founding chief of the URMC Department of Neurology’s Division of Neurogenetics.  He worked with both children and adults, and was known for his ability to diagnose rare disorders of the nervous system. In addition, he and his colleagues provided genetic counseling for patients and families grappling with the medical, financial, emotional, and social implications of hereditary neurological disorders. 

“Those of us who had the pleasure of working with Jim came to quickly realize that he was a wonderful man, whose caring and concern for his patients was simply extraordinary,” said Steve Goldman, M.D., Ph.D., the chair of the URMC Department of Neurology.  “His life's work was dedicated to treating some of life's most unfortunate, and he did so with a sincerity and single-mindedness often uncommon in this era. As tragic as his illness has been to him, his family, and his work, Jim's level-headedness, quiet bravery, and grace will be a lasting inspiration to all of us.”

Garbern is survived by his wife, Angela, and his two daughters Jessica and Stephanie.  In lieu of flowers, the family has asked that donations be made to the PMD Foundation on his behalf.