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NeuroNow - To Keep Good Work Going

NeuroNow Winter 2015

To Keep Good Work Going

Date: December 4, 2014

Left to right: Ronald Daniels, Henry Brem, Paul Rothman, Allan Belzberg, Michael Caterina, Ronald Peterson, Solomon Snyder, Richard Huganir and David Julius
Left to right: Ronald Daniels, Henry Brem, Paul Rothman, Allan Belzberg, Michael Caterina, Ronald Peterson, Solomon Snyder, Richard Huganir and David Julius

For academic physician-scientists, being the recipient of a named professorship, or endowed “chair,” isn’t just another long title to include after their names and degrees, it’s an unprecedented chance to move their work forward. Receiving a chair provides monetary support that allows outside income, such as portions of federal grants, to directly fund research efforts instead of their own salaries. It also allows them protected time to devote to advancing their research, something that can be next to impossible for doctors with busy clinical schedules.

This year, three faculty members in the Department of Neurosurgery received named chairs: Michael Caterina, professor of neurosurgery, biological chemistry, and neuroscience, received the Solomon Snyder Professorship; Allan Belzberg, associate professor of neurological surgery, received the George Heuer Professorship; and Henry Brem, professor of neurosurgery, ophthalmology, oncology and biomedical engineering, and director of the Department of Neurosurgery, received the Henry Brem Professorship.

For Caterina, who co-directs the Johns Hopkins Neurosurgery Pain Research Institute, being associated with neuroscience giant Solomon Snyder is “an incredible honor.” Snyder, who founded Johns Hopkins’ Department of Neuroscience in 1980, has made numerous contributions to neuroscience over his lengthy career, many toward understanding the mechanisms of pain that Caterina currently studies. Snyder has also served as a personal and professional mentor to Caterina since Caterina arrived at Johns Hopkins to start his M.D./Ph.D. program in 1987.

“There’s some responsibility on my shoulders to do his name justice with this professorship,” Caterina says.

Besides being a great honor, he adds, the professorship also adds practical support for him to forge ahead with work to understand the fundamental biological underpinnings of pain and help translate these findings into clinical treatments for patients. The limits of current federal funding often mean fewer resources for expensive tools that could greatly advance Caterina’s research, including transgenic mice or high throughput sequencing.

Belzberg, who also co-directs the Neurosurgery Pain Research Institute, received a chair named after one of Johns Hopkins’ neurosurgery greats. Both his and Caterina’s professorships were funded by the same anonymous donor whose gifts launched the Institute. “It’s prestigious and an honor, but more importantly, it will provide me time in my day and week to pursue what I’d like to academically,” he says.

One area that Belzberg plans to devote more time to is studying the genetics behind why some patients with neurological tumors suffer immense pain while others don’t. In patients with schwannomatosis, a condition in which tumors grow on nerves, Belzberg and his colleagues have thus far found that seven genes seem to be regulated differently in patients who have an accompanying pain syndrome.

“We’re just starting this work, but it already looks very promising,” he says.

Brem says that his professorship, which was funded by several patients, their families, and supporters, will help him continue his longtime work on innovative treatments for the deadliest brain tumors. Over the years, he and his colleagues have developed a biodegradable polymer that can be implanted in the brain to release chemotherapy directly onto brain tumors, several new candidate drugs and therapeutic vaccines, and, more recently, an implantable microchip that can release an entire pharmacy of medicines and biological agents to combat brain cancer. With the support of this professorship, he says, he’ll be able to do even more of this potentially lifesaving research.

To explore how to contribute to future neurosurgery professorships, please call 443-287-7942.

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