Notterpek leaves lasting impact on UF department of neuroscience

By Michelle Jaffee & Todd Taylor

After 21 years at the University of Florida College of Medicine and more than 11 years as chair of neuroscience, Lucia Notterpek, Ph.D., has accepted a new leadership role at the University of Nevada, where she will serve as associate dean for biomedical research and professor of physiology and cell biology at the University of Nevada Reno School of Medicine.

Notterpek microscope
Dr. Lucia Notterpek

Under Notterpek’s leadership, neuroscience at UF greatly expanded its national visibility and scientific impact, rising from No. 25 to a No. 5 national ranking in National Institutes of Health funding, with NIH-supported research programs now exceeding $21 million annually for faculty in neuroscience and in the department of neurology combined.

“Since taking over as chair, she has recruited 12 outstanding tenure-track and 13 multimission track faculty members, which has led to the department’s approximately five-fold increase in its NIH grant portfolio,” Joseph A. Tyndall, M.D., M.P.H., interim dean of the UF College of Medicine, wrote to faculty in announcing her departure.

Jennifer L. Bizon, Ph.D., has taken the helm as interim chair of the department of neuroscience. Formerly associate chair of the department, Bizon is a professor of neuroscience and co-director of UF’s Center for Cognitive Aging and Memory. She serves on the College of Medicine’s promotion and tenure committee and as a member of UF’s McKnight Brain Institute Executive Committee, in addition to co-leading the MBI Education and Outreach Committee.

“Dr. Bizon is an excellent choice for leading the department, as she is a nationally renowned neuroscientist, and her area of expertise — cognitive aging — represents one of the key research topics in the department,” Notterpek said. “She is an outstanding mentor and adviser to trainees and faculty and will make wise decisions even during these extraordinary times.”

Notterpek with Golde, Anderson, Pasternak
Dr. Notterpek with (L-R) Dr. Todd Golde, MBI director; Dr. Doug Anderson, former chair of UF neuroscience; and Michael Pasternak, a founding trustee of The Facial Pain Research Foundation, which supported Dr. Notterpek’s projects.

A trailblazer for women in neuroscience, Notterpek became chair of neuroscience at UF in February 2009 and currently serves as president of the Association of Medical School Neuroscience Department Chairpersons.

“It’s important to recognize that being first is never easy. Lucia came in as our first female chair … and she was a young female, which meant that many times she had to pave her own way,” said Jada Lewis, Ph.D., co-deputy director of UF’s Evelyn F. and William L. McKnight Brain Institute and a professor of neuroscience. “Those inroads she made really changed the college and helped other females become leaders.”

During Notterpek’s tenure, the department initiated several new educational and outreach programs, including the Summer Neuroscience Internship Program, or SNIP, and Brain Awareness Week and affiliated outreach activities, as well as online neuroscience certificate and master’s programs.

“She has an everlasting passion for teaching and mentoring,” said Sunitha Rangaraju, Ph.D., a former trainee of Notterpek’s. “She would come in, switch from a business suit to a lab coat and show us how to do experiments, share sophisticated cell culture techniques and look at brand-new data under the microscope with us.”

Notterpek’s research contributes to the development of effective therapies for demyelinating disorders of the nervous system, including hereditary neuropathies and multiple sclerosis. Her colleagues were inspired by her work ethic and ability to balance administrative and research efforts.

Department of Neuroscience 2019 Retreat
Department of Neuroscience 2019 Retreat

“I’ll miss seeing her in her lab at night,” said Sara N. Burke, Ph.D., an associate professor of neuroscience. “She was not only one of the few principal investigators who still does bench work, but was probably one of the few chairs in the country who still got into the lab on a regular basis to help run experiments.”

After two-plus decades in Gainesville, Notterpek said although she will miss the lushness of the UF campus, she will be joining another land-grant institution and expects many academic aspects to be similar. But one unique aspect at UF, she said, is the opportunity for daily interactions with clinical faculty at the MBI.

“The close relationship of the department of neuroscience with the three clinical neuro departments — neurology, neurosurgery and psychiatry — has immensely enriched our research portfolio and allowed for numerous clinically relevant collaborative projects,” she said.

“I am most gratified,” Notterpek added, “by the successes and career advancement of junior and early mid-career faculty who joined our department, who have since established their own national visibility as evidenced by high-impact publications and numerous invitations to national and international functions.”