Dr. Robert H. Brown

Robert H. Brown Jr., DPhil, MD, appointed chair of Neurology at UMass Medical School and UMass Memorial Medical Center
Internationally known ALS researcher to contribute to new life science initiatives in Worcester

May 14, 2008

Dr. Robert H. Brown

WORCESTER — Robert H. Brown Jr., MD, DPhil, an internationally known researcher and physician who has led the quest to cure neuromuscular diseases like ALS, has accepted the appointment of chair of the Department of Neurology at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and UMass Memorial Medical Center.

“This appointment has the potential to be truly transformational to our clinical and research missions and has broad institutional implications,” says Terence R. Flotte, MD, executive deputy chancellor, provost and dean at UMMS. “Dr. Brown’s outstanding international stature and vision, which bridge translational research and clinical care, are emblematic of how our academic health sciences center is capitalizing on the life sciences moment in Massachusetts.”

Brown comes to UMass Medical School and UMass Memorial Medical Center from Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, where he has been Professor of Neurology and Director of the Day Neuromuscular Laboratory and of the Muscular Dystrophy Association Clinic. Brown founded the Day Laboratory in 1984 to investigate neuromuscular diseases, and it has become internationally recognized for its research and clinical care programs. Brown is renowned for his work on the inherited basis of neurodegenerative and neuromuscular diseases and has a record of significant discoveries in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and neuromuscular disorders, including some types of muscular dystrophy. He will join UMMS and UMass Memorial in October.

In 1993, Dr. Brown and colleagues defined mutations in a gene as one cause of familial ALS. He has already collaborated with UMass Medical School Professor of Biochemistry & Molecular Pharmacology Zuoshang Xu, MD, PhD, in his work to develop an RNA interference-based approach that may herald a treatment for certain neurodegenerative diseases. (RNA interference, or “RNAi,” is a gene-silencing mechanism for which UMMS Professor Craig C. Mello shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2006.)

“I am thrilled that Bob Brown has chosen to bring his research group to UMass Medical School,” said Dr. Mello. “In addition to being a truly outstanding scientist who has made seminal discoveries relating to the genetics of neurodegenerative disease, Bob is one of the most dedicated physicians I have ever met. Having identified the genetic basis for familial ALS, he could simply wait for others to develop therapies based on his discoveries. But Bob knows that his patients don’t have the luxury of time. He comes to UMMS and UMass Memorial with one clear purpose in mind, to develop advanced therapies for ALS and other devastating diseases. We are honored to welcome Dr. Brown and his colleagues to this community and we are eager to redouble our own efforts to further his important work.” Brown graduated from Amherst College, Harvard Medical School and Oxford University, where he received a doctorate in neurophysiology. He has received many honors for his extraordinary commitment to finding cures for neuromuscular diseases, including induction into the Institute of Medicine.

“The appointment of Bob Brown ushers in an exciting new era in translational medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School,” said Michael F. Collins, MD, interim chancellor. “His work as a physician and a researcher has had a major impact in the field of neurology, so the opportunities for advancing research and treatment by joining this scientific community are immense. The University of Massachusetts Medical School is at the center of a revolution in the life sciences, and leaders like Dr. Brown are a key reason why we’ll be successful.”

“Dr. Brown’s extraordinary experience as a clinician and leading researcher at a prominent academic medical center makes him a superb choice for this position,” said John G. O’Brien, president and chief executive officer of UMass Memorial Health Care. “UMass Memorial, in addition to providing great patient care, is poised to be a leader in clinical research, and Dr. Brown is extremely enthusiastic about the opportunities awaiting him here. This is an important moment in the history of this institution.”