Farewell to a visionary leader
Date: January 3, 2012
On April 16, 2011, Johns Hopkins lost one of its most influential researchers: Jack Griffin, an internationally acclaimed and admired expert on diseases of the peripheral nervous system, founding director of the Johns Hopkins Brain Science Institute and former director of the Department of Neurology. Griffin died at the age of 69 after a long battle with bladder cancer.
He was one of the world’s top experts, both as a clinician and researcher, on peripheral nerve disorders. He became a leading figure in studies of Guillain-Barré syndrome, a disease in which the immune system attacks nerves, leading to rapidly evolving paralysis of the legs, arms, face and muscles used in breathing. He went on to play a central role in studying the mechanisms of nerve degeneration and regeneration, and his work led to numerous treatments for neuromuscular disorders.
Justin McArthur, director of the Department of Neurology, notes that Griffin had a hand in developing about 15 different treatments and diagnostic tests. Most physicians, he adds, would have been happy with just one.
“Jack was a superb neurological detective. The name of his farm baseball team was the Optimists,” McArthur says. “It echoes Jack’s essential nature, that of an empathic clinician as well as a superb neurologist. With his patients, it was always, you will recover. With his research, it was, this is going to work. There was a tremendous positive spirit that has been felt throughout his career.”
“Jack was the model clinician scientist,” adds Jeffrey Rothstein, now the John W. Griffin Director of the Johns Hopkins Brain Science Institute. “His commitment to translating clinical observations to the lab to understand how nerve diseases occur was unsurpassed and based on the essence of his personality and attributes here at Hopkins—on open, friendly, engaging collaboration.”
Beginning as a neurology resident in 1970, Griffin spent his entire four-decade career at Hopkins, except for a two-year stint as a clinical associate at the National Institutes of Neurological and Communicative Disorders and Stroke in Bethesda between 1973 and 1975. He ultimately earned Hopkins professorships in neurology, neuroscience and pathology.
He was named head of the Department of Neurology and neurologist in chief of Hopkins Hospital in 1999. As head of neurology, he oversaw the expansion of what was already the country’s largest neurology critical care unit to a 22-bed facility for the treatment of patients with severe strokes, traumatic brain injuries, intractable seizures or gunshot wounds, or those requiring recuperation from significant brain or back operations.
By 2002, he could tell a writer for Hopkins Medicine’s publication Dome that Hopkins Hospital had no peer in neurocritical care. “There is no other comparable department for neurological treatment in the country,” he said. “The science of neurocritical care has grown up, and it makes an enormous difference in outcomes. Lives are saved, and hospital stays are shortened. This new unit provides a setting where the most advanced treatments can be brought to bear.”
Griffin remained head of Neurology until 2006, when ill health compelled him to step down. He recovered, however, and became the founding director of the Brain Science Institute in 2007. Griffin stepped down from that position in April 2011. The directorship will continue in his name.