New MBI director named

A leading authority in neurology and translational research has been named the new executive director of the Evelyn F. and William L. McKnight Brain Institute of the University of Florida.

Tetsuo Ashizawa, M.D., is the chairman and the Melvin Greer professor of the department of neurology.
Tetsuo Ashizawa, M.D., is the chairman and the Melvin Greer professor of the department of neurology.

Tetsuo Ashizawa, M.D., chairman of the department of neurology at the UF College of Medicine, assumed leadership of the McKnight Brain Institute on Sept. 1, UF officials said.

“Dr. Ashizawa is an excellent clinician, educator and researcher and I am pleased he has agreed to accept this post,” said David S. Guzick, M.D., Ph.D., senior vice president for health affairs and president of the UF&Shands Health System. “He has a clear vision of what it takes to direct basic research to develop practical applications that will help patients. This is a vibrant time for NeuroMedicine at the Health Science Center and Shands at UF. Many of our innovations are coming online to make tangible differences in patients’ lives. We have invested in the best people and infrastructure to translate laboratory findings into clinical treatments, and Dr. Ashizawa is well-qualified to advance these efforts.”

Ashizawa has an inclusive vision for governance of the MBI, which is important for aligning the vast brain research enterprise at UF, Guzick said. The appointment was made with the approval of UF President Bernie Machen and Vice President for Research Win Phillips.

“I am honored,” Ashizawa said. “To fulfill the expectations of the university, the state and the McKnight Brain Institute’s supporters, we have to build consensus about how to direct basic and translational research that will end suffering for people with brain and spinal cord diseases or age-related memory loss. It is a complex mission, one that will involve galvanizing the goals of faculty in the NeuroMedicine departments, and interested faculty in the entire university, in collaboration with outside research institutions and grant organizations.”

Although the challenges are great, Ashizawa said he is not facing them alone.

“This is going to be an effort of the chairs in neuroscience, neurosurgery and psychiatry — the major tenants of the MBI alongside of neurology — the McKnight Brain Research Foundation and the UF professors trying to end age-related memory loss, the Center for Translational Research on Neurodegenerative Disorders, the Institute on Aging, the Genetics Institute, the UF Shands Cancer Center, the Malcom Randall Veterans Affairs Medical Center, the Brain Rehabilitation Research Center, and others with a stake in brain research,” said Ashizawa, who holds the Melvin Greer professorship of neurology at UF. “All of these parties should have input into the operation of the MBI.”

The Brain Institute began in the early 1990s as a campuswide initiative to harness UF’s research, clinical care and educational skills to confront brain disorders. It was named for Evelyn F. and William L. McKnight in 2000 to commemorate a gift from the McKnight Brain Research Foundation that, matched with state funds, amounted to $30 million to support research to end age-related memory loss.

Ashizawa replaces Dennis Steindler, Ph.D., a professor of neuroscience and authority in the field of regenerative medicine, who stepped down after six years in the administrative post.

“I am thankful for all everyone here has done to make this a most exciting and fulfilling job for me,” Steindler said. “With this said, I have missed being in the laboratory as much as I used to be, and it is now a perfect time for me to be returning to being a full-time scientist. Our McKnight Brain Institute will definitely be in excellent hands to help make all of our research and clinical efforts continue to advance.”

Ashizawa joined UF in April 2009 as chairman of the department of neurology. He quickly began initiatives to elevate research, patient care and education of students and residents. He received a $1 million Challenge grant from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke to lead a nationwide network of physician-scientists called the Clinical Research Consortium for Spinocerebellar Ataxias, which includes nine other institutions, among them Emory University, the Johns Hopkins University and Harvard University.

He has published more than 100 peer-reviewed articles and more than 100 abstracts. Among his many honors, he has received “The Team Hope Award” for medical leadership from the Huntington’s Disease Society of America and the Research Excellence award from the National Institute of Neurology and Neurosurgery of Mexico.

He attended medical school at Keio University Medical School in Tokyo, obtained residency training in medicine at Kitasato University Hospital in Kanagawa, Japan, served a medical internship for internal medicine at Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh, and obtained residency training in neurology at the Baylor College of Medicine.

He became a professor of neurology at Baylor in 1997 before becoming the John Sealy Chair in neurology at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston in 2002. He has also served as the assistant chief of neurology service and the deputy executive of neurology care at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Houston.