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McNamara Appointed Chair of Neurobiology At Duke

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Duke Health News 919-660-1306

DURHAM, N.C. -- James McNamara, M.D., who is the Carl R. Deane Professor of Neuroscience and a professor of neurology, has been named chair of the department of neurobiology at Duke University Medical Center.

McNamara's research concentrates on mechanisms of "epileptogenesis" -- the process by which a normal brain becomes epileptic. McNamara assumes the chairmanship from Dale Purves, M.D., the George B. Geller Professor of Research for Neurobiology, who has been chairman since 1990.

"Dale Purves and his colleagues have built one of the top neurobiology departments in the world," said McNamara. "His vision in recruiting brilliant scientists and fostering their development is unsurpassed in the field. The challenge now is to build on this foundation and enable the department to achieve even higher levels of distinction. I am excited at this challenge."

Said R. Sanders Williams, M.D., dean of the Duke School of Medicine, "Dr. McNamara has a clear vision of how to bring the disciplines of systems neuroscience, molecular neuroscience and translational neuroscience together."

McNamara came to Duke in 1973 as chief resident in neurology in the medical center. Previously, he had earned his A.B. from Marquette University and his M.D. from the University of Michigan, and served his internship and residency at the University of Michigan Hospital. He had also served as a neurologist at the U. S. Army Hospital in Fort Hood, Tex.

At Duke, he progressed through the academic ranks to be appointed professor of medicine (neurology) in 1985. He also served as director of the Epilepsy Center of the Durham VA Medical Center. He founded the Duke Center for Advanced Study of Epilepsy. He also holds a joint appointment as a professor of pharmacology. In 1991, he completed a sabbatical year in the molecular neurobiology laboratory of Steve Heinemann, Ph.D., at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, Calif. In 1993, he was named the Carl R. Deane Professor of Neuroscience.

McNamara has received numerous honors and awards. He has been the recipient of two Jacob Javits Neuroscience Investigator awards from the National Institutes of Health. He is also a recipient of the research recognition award from the American Epilepsy Society. He has delivered numerous distinguished lectures, and is the author of more than 125 scientific papers in his research field.

According to McNamara, his central goal as chairman will be to help bring the power of cellular and molecular biology to bear in elucidating how the nervous system functions in health and disease. In addition, he hopes to forge closer ties between basic scientists in the neurobiology department and translational neuroscience efforts in other departments in the medical center. The idea, he said, is to build synergies that will facilitate translating basic discoveries rapidly into clinical applications.

"Diseases of the nervous system have profoundly deleterious consequences for individuals of all ages," said McNamara. "Be it a problem of the developing nervous system such as autism, of the aging nervous system such as Alzheimer's, stroke or macular degeneration, or something in between such as brain tumors, bipolar disease or epilepsy -- diseases of the nervous system touch all of us, affecting ourselves and/or our loved ones.

"Translational neuroscience, the study of diseases of the nervous system, is traditionally and appropriately done mainly by faculty in clinical departments," said McNamara. "But clinical investigators are often housed in departments geographically remote from the department of neurobiology, and are isolated from the considerable technical and intellectual resources of the department. Also, clinician scientists have clinical responsibilities which place additional constraints on their time.

"To facilitate such research efforts, we are in the process of forming a new Center for Translational Neuroscience. The idea is that faculty in this center will come from a range of departments involved in neuroscience research, including neurology, neurosurgery, ophthalmology, otolaryngology, pathology, pediatrics, psychiatry and radiology. Faculty from all these departments could develop continuous and effective interactions with our neurobiologists. The initial step for the Center has been to establish much closer ties with the department of medicine's division of neurology, under division chief Dr. Warren Strittmatter," said McNamara.

"My dream is to work with faculty in Neurobiology and Neurology and a variety of clinical departments to develop philanthropic initiatives, one goal of which is raise funds to construct a new building to house the Center for Translational Neuroscience. Ideally, this building will be adjacent to, and physically connected with, the Bryan building. Such a building, combined with Duke's terrific faculty and this new administrative structure, will assure that Duke maintains a leading position worldwide in solving diverse diseases of the nervous system."

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