January 26, 2017
Today’s Study Break is a focus on the Department of Neurology.
Dr. Louise McCullough, the Roy M. and Phyllis Gough Huffington Distinguished Chair, was recruited from the University of Connecticut Health Center to lead the department. There she was a professor in the Department of Neurology and Neuroscience and director of stroke research and education at John Dempsey Hospital and Hartford Hospital Stroke Center and was an attending vascular neurologist at Hartford Hospital. Dr. McCullough received her bachelor’s degree in psychology, a master’s in experimental psychology, and a doctorate in neuroscience from the University of Connecticut at Storrs prior to embarking upon her medical training at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine in Farmington. Her postgraduate education included residency training in neurology at the Johns Hopkins Hospital, followed by a fellowship in cerebral vascular disease, neurology, and anesthesiology. She was on the faculty of the University of Connecticut for 11 years before moving to Houston.
She has been our department chair for only 17 months and is already making a wonderful impact on our clinical, educational, and research programs. I’ve asked her to give us an overview of her department and its people.
What is the vision of the department?
Our vision is to continue on our journey to become one of the best clinical, research, and educational programs in academic neurology in the country.
Tell us about the history of the department.
The department was founded in 1972 with only six faculty, including the first chair, Dr. William Fields. Since then, the department has grown exponentially, expanding specialty programs to include Epilepsy, led by Dr. Jeremy Slater; Movement Disorders, led by Dr. Mya Schiess; Multiple Sclerosis, led by Dr. Flavia Nelson; Neuromuscular Diseases, led by Dr. Kazim Sheik; Neurocognitive Disorders led by Dr. Paul Schulz; Diagnostic Neurology, led by Dr. Ray Martin; Neuro-rehabilitation, led by Dr. Nneka Ifejika; Tele-Neurology, led by Dr. Teddy Wu; and Stroke, led by Dr. Sean Savitz. The Division Chiefs, as well as our Vice-Chair for research, Dr. Jarek Aronowski, are really responsible for the success of the Department. The clinical program in Neurology has become one of the busiest and most comprehensive neurology clinical practices in Houston, staffed by outstanding physicians, some of whom are acknowledged distinguished experts in their area of specialization. We are one of the premier stroke centers in the country—with active clinical, research, and training programs. The Department has grown over the years as have our educational and research programs. I am grateful to the previous leaders of this department, including Dr. Jim Grotta and Dr. Jim Ferrendelli, for our solid foundation. I am especially grateful to my immediate predecessor, interim chair Dr. Jerry Wolinsky, who has been a wonderful colleague and friend. Dr. Wolinsky developed one of the best Multiple Sclerosis Centers in the country here at McGovern and is now an Emeritus Professor, spending a tremendous amount of time mentoring and helping the junior faculty with grant applications.
How big is the department?
The Department has 55 faculty, 40 clinical and 15 research. We have 27 residents, 14 clinical fellows, and 12 postdoctoral research fellows. In fiscal year 2016, we had over 26,000 clinical patient encounters. We have a strong research program. Unique among clinical departments at the medical school, 40 percent of our budget is funded by research grants and contracts, with 47 active clinical trials. We provide care for five services at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center and share 32 ICU beds, 12 NIMU beds, and 49 floor unit beds with neurosurgery; have 12 stroke unit beds; 7 epilepsy monitoring unit beds (adult); and share 20 rehab beds with Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. Of note, pediatric neurology is a division within the Department of Pediatrics.
How do you serve the educational mission?
Medical education opportunities in clinical neurology are available at the undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate levels of training. A four-week medical student clerkship is offered in the third year. Students are very positive about the teaching they receive and the patients they care for. We offer a Neurology Residency Training Program (one of three in the TMC) as well as fellowships in clinical neurophysiology (EEG, EEG/video monitoring, EMG, and evoked potentials), vascular neurology (T32), epilepsy, movement disorders, and multiple sclerosis/neurovirology/neuroimmunology. We are developing the infrastructure for a R25 application that will provide the opportunity to do a year of research training during residency. Our residency has grown tremendously in the past two years, allowing additional time for research and educational endeavors.
Please describe some key areas of research and comment on research training and mentorship. I know that you brought several graduate students and postdoctoral fellows with you when you moved to Houston—people who followed you here to continue their training.
Our research program is funded by a variety of NIH grants, industry, and foundations and attracts collaborators from all over the globe. Research in the Department ranges from basic laboratory research to multi-center clinical trials. We have some absolutely stellar scientists, including Dr. Jarek Aronowski, who studies stroke and intracerebral hemorrhage; Dr. Claudio Soto, whose work focuses on neurodegeneration and prion diseases; and Dr. Kazim Sheikh who studies peripheral nerve pathology. The faculty members are all very involved in mentorship and training, and we have a clinical stroke training program (T32 training grant) that is training the next generation of clinical stroke researchers. We will be applying for a second translational T32 this year.
Relocating a large research group is hard, but I was incredibly fortunate that several excellent faculty members (Dr. Jun Li, Dr. Fudong Liu, and Dr. Venu Venna) and many of our trainees chose to continue their training here in Houston. About 22 people came along, including four post-doctoral trainees, three MD-PhD students, a PhD student, and several “gap year” trainees, as well as several clinicians. We are very happy to be here, as the resources here at McGovern Medical School and the larger TMC community are unparalleled. All the help from the administration, the graduate and medical schools, and the facilities team really allowed us to settle in very quickly and feel very welcome.
What is new for the department?
We are very proud that our Huntington disease program, led by Dr. Erin Furr Stimming, was named a Center of Excellence last year by the Huntington Disease Society of America. Department faculty have worked very hard this year to enhance our clinical programs and to increase the reach of our telemedicine program, directed by Dr. Teddy Wu. Last fiscal year we added three new acute teleneurology sites and added our first inpatient teleneurology site at Memorial Hermann Pearland. We are the sole provider of neurology services at Memorial Hermann Pearland and have increased our consult volumes by 30 percent through teleneurology, which allows us to share our expertise remotely and get urgent care to patients who wouldn’t otherwise have access to a neurologist. Recently, the Department has become the home of the new “UT Stroke Institute” led by Dr. Sean Savitz, adding even greater strength to this program. This institute will integrate research efforts at each of UTHealth’s schools to foster collaborative efforts in stroke prevention and translational stroke research.
I hope you will agree that we have a wonderful Department and that in only 17 months as Chair Dr. McCullough is already making a positive impact. Thanks, Dr. McCullough. Great things are happening with the Department of Neurology.