There was a bittersweet feeling in the air at the NEALS annual meeting, where Jeremy Shefner, MD, PhD, announced he was stepping down as co-chair of the organization in January of 2014, at the end of his current term. Dr. Shefner was a co-founder of NEALS and has helped lead the organization since 1995. During his tenure, NEALS has grown from the original 9 sites, all in the northeast, to over 100 sites across North America, Ireland, and Israel. He has been instrumental in accelerating the pace and improving the quality of clinical trials in ALS.
“Leading NEALS is one of the things in my professional career I am proudest of,” Dr. Shefner told the meeting. “It is gratifying to me to see how we have grown.”
Dr. Shefner is Professor and Chair of Neurology at SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, New York, and directs the ALS Research and Treatment Center there. He has co-authored over 100 scientific publications, and mentored more than 70 medical residents, many of whom have chosen to make ALS care and clinical research a significant part of their practice.
He has led dozens of clinical trials in ALS, most recently a series of trials of tirasemtiv, a muscle activator that appears promising as a symptomatic therapy. He has also been instrumental in developing and championing a measurement of muscle unit number estimation (MUNE) as an objective measure of disease progression, a much-needed tool to speed clinical trials in ALS.
In a warm and moving tribute to Dr. Shefner, his NEALS co-founder and co-chair Merit Cudkowicz, MD, spoke for all in saying, “It can safely be said that one of the best things to happen to ALS therapeutic research is the co-chairmanship of Jeremy Shefner. He is truly an extraordinary leader in every sense of the word.”
ALS researcher and clinician Robert Brown, MD, DPhil, echoed that sentiment, saying, “It is a delight to be able to say ‘Thank you’ for what you have done for this field. Your real passion has been to make a difference for patients with ALS.”
After praising Dr. Shefner’s “dry wit, keen intelligence, and firm hand on the tiller,” Dr. Brown stepped aside as Dr. Cudkowicz presented Dr. Shefner with a small but heartily appreciated token of his colleagues’ esteem: a t-shirt with his likeness on one side, and “MUNE: Much Used Neurophysiologic Exam” on the other. (A few more of these shirts were later spotted around the meeting, bringing envious glances to those lucky enough to be wearing one.)
Dr. Shefner said, “Building NEALS has been the main accomplishment of my career. It has been an honor to work with the leaders of this group and of this field, a group of amazing, committed, and genuinely nice people.” Dr. Shefner will remain on the NEALS Executive Committee, and plans to remain active in leading trials and mentoring young investigators.