Neurology Celebrates 50 Years of Leadership in Research, Care, and Education

Sep. 20, 2016
Department of Neurology faculty in 1966 and today

The University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) Department of Neurology is honoring the 50th anniversary of its founding.  The occasion will be marked with four day-long celebration of the department’s history, achievements, alumni, and vision for the future.   

 “The history of the department is ultimately a human story of relationships, inspiring leadership, and how a rare combination of great intellect, common sense, humility, wit, and charm can move the neurological needle on a global scale,” said Robert Holloway, M.D., M.P.H., the chair of the Department of Neurology.  “From its humble beginnings 50 years ago, this department has shaped the careers of hundreds of caregivers and, through its care and research, impacted the lives of millions of patients.”

The URMC Department of Neurology was founded by Bob Joynt, M.D. in 1966 who served as its chair until 1986.  The department has been subsequently led by Robert Griggs (1986-2008) Steve Goldman (2008-2012), and Holloway (2012-present).  

Over the past five decades, the department has grown from its original six faculty members and is now comprised of more than 260 physicians, nurses, residents, fellows, and support staff.  The department is among the top in the nation in research funding and has been a pioneer in experimental therapeutics, its clinical programs are regularly recognized among the best in the country, and its education and training programs are considered national models. 

The celebration will take place September 22-24, 2016 and will include the Annual Goldberg Lecture, a gala banquet at the Monroe Golf Club, and a scientific session including posters and research updates by current faculty and alumni.

A Pioneer in Research

The Department of Neurology has consistently ranked among the top 10 in the nation in the amount of research funding it receives from NIH.  Total funding for the department in 2015 exceeded $20 million. 

The department’s basic research ranges from efforts to understand the fundamental biology of the central nervous system to identifying the mechanisms of neurological disorders.  Much of the Neurology’s basic research activity is concentrated in the Center for Neural Development and Disease and the Center for Translational Neuromedicine, the latter operates labs in both Rochester and at the University of Copenhagen. 

Neurology is also home to several leading centers that focus on muscular dystrophy research, including the Fields Center for FSHD & Neuromuscular Research, the Wellstone Muscular Dystrophy Cooperative Research Center , and the department maintains a national registry of patients with muscular dystrophy that is used by clinicians and scientists across the country to better understand the complex symptoms of the disease and recruit study participants. 

The department is widely recognized as a pioneer in experimental therapies and clinical research.  In the mid-1980’s, Joynt tapped Ira Shoulson, M.D., and Karl Kieburtz M.D., M.P.H., to create what would eventually be called the Clinical Trials Coordination Center, a unique academic-based enterprise with the scientific expertise and infrastructure necessary to work with the pharmaceutical and biotech industry, foundations, and the NIH to design and run multi-center clinical trials.  Since its inception, the CTCC, which was renamed the Center for Human Experimental Therapeutics in 2012, has conducted 120 clinical trials and is responsible for bringing six FDA-approved drugs to market to treat Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, and periodic paralysis.  

URMC neurologists have also been instrumental in organizing the international networks of clinicians and researchers necessary to carry out multi-center clinical trials.  These efforts led to the creation of the Parkinson’s Study Group, the Huntington’s Study Group, and the Muscle Study Group.   The department is also one of the inaugural members of the NIH-sponsored NeuroNEXT research network and has recently established a program in global neurology.

Excellence in Clinical Care

The URMC Department of Neurology’s clinical enterprise is one the largest and most sophisticated of its kind in the country and its expertise across the sub-specialties of neurological care attracts patients from across the globe.  The department is currently ranked among the top programs in the nation by US News & World Report.

URMC is home to upstate New York’s largest, most advanced, and multi-disciplinary care programs for Parkinson’s disease and movement disorders, muscular dystrophy and neuromuscular disorders, multiple sclerosis, neuro-oncology, and epilepsy. 

In recent years, the department has launched a neurohospitalist program, opened the region’s only NeuroMedicine Critical Care Unit, was designated a Comprehensive Stroke Center by the Joint Commission and the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association, and opened the URMC Headache Center

URMC neurologists have also been pioneers in expanding access to specialized care via technologies such as telemedicine and mobile applications. 

A National Model in Education

Rochester is a national magnet for medical students, resident, and fellows.  Since 2001, eight percent of the graduates of the School of Medicine and Dentistry have matched into either adult or child neurology residency programs, compared to a national average of one percent.  The department’s adult residency program is considered to be one of the top programs nationally and is highly sought after by medical graduates.  This year the department received 574 applications for 6 adult residency positions.    

The department’s NIH-sponsored training grant in Experimental Therapeutics is in its 26th year and is one of the longest continually-funded NIH training programs in the country.  URMC neurologists have also helped develop and oversee neuromedicine education programs in Poland, China, Zambia, Malawi, and Spain.

Ralph Jozefowicz, M.D., who has overseen the department’s education programs for more than 20 years, has been honored by the Association of American Medical Colleges and the American Association of Neurology for enhancing the education of neurologists nationwide.

Alumni of department’s training programs have or are currently practicing neurology in more than 20 countries and 35 states and have gone on to hold various academic, government, and industry leadership positions.

“Over the next 50 years, the field of neurology will be profoundly transformed, from our concept of disease, to our ability to diagnose with more precision, to the impact of our therapies, to the way we teach our trainees,” said Holloway.  “But some things will not change.  The patient will remain at the center of all we do, guiding our way and reminding us that the most important things we do with our lives we do for others.”