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Brody named Stupp Professor of Neurology

Physician-scientist a leading researcher in effects of traumatic brain injury

by Tamara BhandariFebruary 27, 2017

Washington University Photographic Services/Eric Young

David Brody, MD, PhD, a leader in research on traumatic brain injury, neurodegenerative diseases and the relationship between the two, has been named the Norman J. Stupp Professor of Neurology.

“David is at the forefront of efforts to develop better ways to understand and measure the effects of traumatic brain injury, as well as to better understand neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease,” said David M. Holtzman, MD, the Andrew B. and Gretchen P. Jones Professor and head of the Department of Neurology. “His work helps us identify people who are developing or who are at risk of developing dementia and contributes to the goal of finding better ways to prevent cognitive decline after traumatic brain injury and in neurodegenerative diseases.”

Brody’s research focuses on how concussive brain injury – the kind suffered by boxers punched in the head and soldiers injured in bomb blasts – damages the white matter of the brain and causes levels of the brain protein amyloid beta to rise. Abnormal aggregates of amyloid beta are associated with neurodegeneration, especially in Alzheimer’s disease.

He is best known for his work in U.S. military personnel. Brody and colleagues took MRI brain scans of service members who had suffered blast-related trauma, and developed techniques to identify precisely where the injuries occurred and correlate them with cognitive and behavioral symptoms.

Another part of Brody’s lab is working on purifying soluble clumps of amyloid beta. In animal models, brain injury leads to an increase in amyloid beta levels, causing toxicity to neurons in the brain. If his lab can find a way to purify these clumps, the researchers will be able to study them and design an approach to imaging them in people.

Brody is the third person to hold the Stupp professorship, following Eugene M. Johnson, PhD, who was named the inaugural Stupp professor in 1994, and Maurizio Corbetta, MD, who was named in 2005. Brody counts both as mentors.

“I still see Gene Johnson in my head when I’m critiquing a paper or a grant or thinking about the weaknesses or limitations of a study,” said Brody, who keeps a list of what he calls ‘The Johnson Criteria’ above his desk. “He had an amazing ability to get right to the critical flaw of a study, and I still use his criteria to evaluate scientific work.”

Corbetta, now the head of neurology in the Department of Neuroscience at the University of Padua in Italy, has helped pave the way for Brody’s career. He pioneered many of the MRI techniques Brody adapted for his own research, and a clinic Corbetta started at Washington University served as a model for a concussion clinic Brody established in 2004.

The concussion clinic treats people who have suffered concussions as a result of sports, military service, accidents, falls or other causes. It also serves as one of six national centers aimed at studying and treating retired NFL players who have sustained repeated concussions.

Brody earned his undergraduate degree from Stanford University in 1992 and his medical degree and PhD from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in 2000. He completed his medical residency in neurology at Washington University in 2004 and joined the faculty that same year.

The Stupp professorship was created in 1994 through a gift from the Norman J. Stupp Foundation, which supports medical research and education programs. The foundation was established in 1952 by Norman Jacob Stupp and his wife, Marie. Norman, who died in 1979, graduated from the university in 1921 with a degree in civil engineering.

Washington University School of Medicine‘s 2,100 employed and volunteer faculty physicians also are the medical staff of Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals. The School of Medicine is one of the leading medical research, teaching and patient-care institutions in the nation, currently ranked sixth in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Through its affiliations with Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals, the School of Medicine is linked to BJC HealthCare.