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Dr. Gerald D. Fischbach Appointed New NINDS Director

For release: Wednesday, June 3, 1998

Harold Varmus, M.D., Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), today announced the appointment of Gerald D. Fischbach, M.D., as Director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), the leading federal agency supporting research on the brain and nervous system.

Dr. Fischbach is the Nathan Marsh Pusey Professor of Neurobiology at the Harvard University Medical School. He is Chairman of the Departments of Neurobiology at Harvard Medical School and the Massachusetts General Hospital. He was also the founding Director of the Harvard University Initiative on Mind, Brain, and Behavior.

As the new Director of the NINDS, Dr. Fischbach will oversee a staff of more than 700 scientists, physician-scientists, and administrators, and an annual budget close to $800 million. The Institute supports research by investigators in public and private institutions across the country, as well as by scientists working in 23 intramural laboratories and branches at the NINDS. In Bethesda, Maryland, the Institute has been at the forefront of U.S. efforts in brain research since 1950, with studies in areas ranging from the structure and function of single brain cells to tests of new diagnostic tools and treatments for people with neurological disorders.

"I am very pleased that Dr. Fischbach will be joining us at the NIH. At a time when our understanding of the biology of brain and nervous system is beginning to offer great opportunities to transform medical practice, it is important to have a distinguished physician and scientist at the helm of the NINDS," said Dr. Varmus in announcing the new appointment. "Dr. Fischbach’s collaborative skills will make him an effective partner with the other NIH components involved in the neurosciences, and his leadership skills will benefit all of the NIH."

"This is a remarkable time in the field of neuroscience. Exciting discoveries at all levels of analysis from molecules to mind have led to a more profound understanding of the normal and diseased brain," according to Dr. Fischbach. "It is an honor to be asked to serve as Director of NINDS at this time, and it is a welcome obligation to help the NIH remain the world’s most important force promoting biomedical research."

Dr. Fischbach is an internationally renowned neuroscientist who throughout his career has studied the formation and the maintenance of connections between nerve cells and their targets. These connections, called synapses, are essential for transmission of information in the brain and peripheral nervous system. He developed methods for growing nerve and muscle cells outside of the body, and he has used such tissue cultures to study small molecules and proteins that alter synaptic efficacy.

Among his many awards and honors, Dr. Fischbach is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He has served on numerous editorial and advisory boards including the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Helen Hay Whitney Foundation and the McKnight Foundation. He is a past-president of the 28,000-member Society for Neuroscience and he has been a trustee of the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. He is currently a non-Resident Fellow of the Salk Institute.

Dr. Fischbach received his undergraduate degree in Mathematics and Chemistry from Colgate University in 1960 and his M.D. from Cornell University Medical School in 1965. After interning in medicine at the University of Washington, he worked at the National Institutes of Health for eight years, first as a senior surgeon with the NINDS, and later as a staff fellow at the (then) National Institute of Child Health. Between 1973 and 1981, he served as an Associate Professor and later as a full Professor of Pharmacology at Harvard Medical School. In 1981, he accepted the position as Chairman of the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology at Washington University School of Medicine. Before leaving St. Louis to return to Boston and his current positions, Dr. Fischbach became Director of Washington University's Jacob Javits Center for Excellence in Neuroscience, and the John S. McDonnell Center for Cellular and Molecular Neurobiology.

Dr. Fischbach will join the NINDS staff on July 30, 1998.

Last Modified August 7, 2009