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Lee named head of Department of Neurology

Recognized for expertise in brain injury, impact as mentor

by Elizabethe Holland DurandoJune 22, 2021

Matt Miller

Jin-Moo Lee, MD, PhD, recognized internationally for his research on the cellular and molecular pathophysiology of brain injury, has been named head of the Department of Neurology and the Andrew B. and Gretchen P. Jones Professor of Neurology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. He will begin in his new role Sept. 1.

Currently the Norman J. Stupp Professor of Neurology and chief of the cerebrovascular disease section in the Department of Neurology, Lee was selected from a pool of distinguished international candidates. Noted for the many collaborations he has helped forge at the university, Lee is also a professor of radiology and of biomedical engineering, as well as co-director of the Stroke and Cerebrovascular Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University, and co-chair of BJC HealthCare’s stroke care clinical program.

“I am so pleased that Jin-Moo Lee will be the next head of the Department of Neurology, particularly as the School of Medicine moves closer to opening our new, state-of-the art neuroscience research building,” said David H. Perlmutter, MD, executive vice chancellor for medical affairs, the George and Carol Bauer Dean of the School of Medicine, and the Spencer T. and Ann W. Olin Distinguished Professor. “Dr. Lee is a brilliant scientist who other scientists and clinicians line up to work with — not only because of his very highly regarded research delving into cellular and molecular aspects of stroke and neurodegenerative diseases, but also because of his stellar reputation in bringing teams together to advance clinical care through research, and his championing of other scientists and clinicians. Dr. David Holtzman, the department’s current head, has been amazing in this role and leaves extremely large shoes to fill. I’m confident Jin-Moo can lead us into this next era in which exceptional clinicians, educators and scientists are together contributing to advances in health and biomedicine.”

Lee’s lab has used cells, mouse models, and clinical studies involving functional imaging and genomics in its investigations. Among the lab’s discoveries is a novel technique that can be used in live cells to visualize the intracellular pathway of the amyloid precursor protein and its breakdown, which leads to one of the earliest steps in Alzheimer’s pathogenesis.

Using mouse models of stroke, Lee has studied the effects of stroke on neural connectivity, as well as the mechanisms of plasticity essential to functional recovery. In a compelling study published in 2018 in Science Translational Medicine, his team showed, in mice, that sensory deprivation improves recovery after stroke. The work involved trimming the animals’ whiskers to decrease sensory input into the cortex, and targeted disruption of a gene critical for activity-dependent synaptic plasticity. The implications of this work can be translated into simple maneuvers to enhance brain plasticity in people who have had strokes, allowing them to regain some of what was lost due to stroke.

His research also has moved into two very important areas of clinical and translational research. Lee uses clinical and imaging studies together with genomic analyses to understand genes and molecular pathways that lead to brain injury caused by stroke. Also, collaborating with several multidisciplinary teams, he has pursued a hypothesis for the earliest origins of cerebral small vessel disease, using advanced MRI to measure cerebral blood flow and oxygen metabolism in people.

Further evidence of his strength as a collaborator, Lee is the principal investigator of GENESIS (Genetics of Early Neurological Instability after Ischemic Stroke) and chair of the International Stroke Genetics Consortium. He also has led efforts at the university in collaboration with Barnes-Jewish and BJC HealthCare leadership to improve stroke outcomes for patients in the region. Among those efforts, he helped create an infrastructure that supports one of the fastest hospital “door to needle” response times in the country for acute stroke intervention. In addition, he developed a regional telestroke program and initiated efforts to elevate the quality of stroke care across the BJC HealthCare system.

As a mentor, Lee is revered by his students and others. In 2017, he was recognized by his colleagues with a Distinguished Faculty Award for Research Mentoring, and he has won numerous accolades for his clinical teaching as well.

The School of Medicine is one of the world’s premier institutions in neurology research, with numerous of its physician-scientists viewed as international leaders in their specific fields, Lee among them. He will take the Department of Neurology’s reins during construction of an 11-story, 609,000-square-foot neuroscience research building that will provide a research home and laboratories to hundreds of faculty scientists in the school’s neurology, neuroscience, neurosurgery, psychiatry and anesthesiology departments. The structure will be one of the largest neuroscience research buildings in the country.

“I’m excited at the opportunity to serve as the head of this remarkable department and build upon decades of life-changing achievements by the scientists here, many under the dynamic leadership of David Holtzman,” Lee said. “I’m eager to see the collaborations our researchers will spur and what will come from them, especially as the university makes an even deeper commitment to the neurosciences. I’m hopeful that our discoveries will continue to have a tremendous impact on the understanding of brain injury and neurodegenerative disease so that we can change their trajectories for the betterment of human health.”

Lee earned a bachelor’s degree in molecular biophysics and biochemistry from Yale College, and then completed the MD/PhD program at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City. After completing his residency in neurology at the University of Pennsylvania, he came to Washington University for training in vascular neurology and postdoctoral work with Dennis Choi, MD, PhD, former head of the neurology department.

Lee joined the faculty and started an independent lab at the School of Medicine in 1999 and has been continuously funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for more than two decades. He currently holds a prestigious Javits Neuroscience Investigator Award (R37), an R01 grant, and serves as co-principal investigator for the Mid-America Regional Coordinating Center, which is part of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke’s StrokeNet trials infrastructure.

He also is associate editor of Translational Stroke Research; a consulting editor for JACC: Basic to Translational Science; and serves on the NIH study section for acute neurological injury and epilepsy.

Holtzman has led the neurology department for 18 years and has decided to step back to focus more heavily on research.

“Dr. Holtzman has been a truly remarkable leader of this department, “Perlmutter said. “In addition to his own brilliant contributions to our understanding of Alzheimer’s disease and new treatments on the horizon, Dave has trained and recruited many of the faculty who make up what is currently, I believe, the finest academic neurology department on the planet. We are so lucky that he is remaining as director of the Hope Center for Neurological Diseases and associate director of the Knight Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center and will now be able to focus even more intensely on new strategies to prevent neurodegeneration.”

Washington University School of Medicine’s 1,500 faculty physicians also are the medical staff of Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals. The School of Medicine is a leader in medical research, teaching and patient care, consistently ranking among the top medical schools 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.

Elizabethe edits news releases and School of Medicine content in the Record. She writes occasionally, including recent stories for Outlook magazine and the Record that took her to Bangladesh to cover faculty efforts to help Rohingya refugees. She is a former reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Las Vegas Sun and the Northwest Florida Daily News, and she has taught journalism and/or writing courses at The Ohio State University, Lindenwood University and Webster University. She has a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a master's degree in journalism from Ohio State.