Release Date: June 9, 2015
BUFFALO, N.Y. — Gil I. Wolfe, MD, Irvin and Rosemary Smith Professor and Chair of the Department of Neurology at the University at Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, has been selected to receive the 2015 Doctor of the Year award from the Myasthenia Gravis Foundation of America (MGFA).
Wolfe is an expert on neuromuscular disorders with a special focus on myasthenia gravis (MG), the most common disease of neuromuscular transmission. MG results from an immune-mediated disruption of communication between motor nerves and muscle – an assembly of structures that form the neuromuscular junction.
“I am grateful and honored to receive the Doctor of the Year award from the MGFA, an organization I have worked closely with over the years,” said Wolfe. “The foundation does a fabulous job promoting awareness of MG across numerous audiences as well as providing easy-to-understand information for patients, families and health care providers. It has been a privilege to be involved with such efforts over the years. Further, I am grateful for the MGFA’s grant support of investigative work I have been involved with over the years, from the thymectomy trial to the current international MG treatment guideline task force I am co-directing with Dr. Don Sanders of Duke University.”
Myasthenia Gravis (MG) is an autoimmune neuromuscular disease that causes weakness in the voluntary muscles. MG manifests itself uniquely in each patient, but typically involves symptoms such as inability to keep eyelids open; crossed eyes; weakness in hands and arms, feet and legs; trouble with smiling and other facial expressions; and, worst of all, difficulties swallowing and breathing which can lead to myasthenic crisis. MG is a rare disease affecting 70,000 people or more in the United States; it is often undiagnosed. It cannot be cured, but it can be treated to a degree in most patients, some more successfully than others.
Currently, Wolfe is clinical chair of a major National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded international trial of a surgical procedure called thymectomy. This procedure is routinely performed on MG patients with and without thymoma, a chest tumor. The study assesses the benefit of thymectomy beyond conventional medications in helping MG patients who do not present with a chest tumor.
Wolfe received planning grant support from the Muscular Dystrophy Association to develop the trial of thymectomy for MG in the late 1990s. Under the leadership of Professor John Newsom-Davis and other colleagues, including Gary Cutter and Henry Kaminski, he successfully obtained funding from the NIH to support the trial which will complete final outcome assessments in November. The trial is the longest, and one of the largest, randomized studies in the history of MG.
Since the 1990s, Wolfe has led educational programs for neurologists at the American Academy of Neurology and numerous universities. His early research focused on treatment trials and outcome measurements for MG, including the co-direction with Richard Barohn, now of the University of Kansas of a randomized, controlled, multicenter clinical trial of intravenous immunoglobulin in MG.
In 2011, while at the University of Texas (UT) Southwestern Medical Center, Wolfe was awarded a seven-year, $1.5 million Network of Excellence in Neuroscience Clinical Trial: NeuroNEXT grant from the NIH as co-principal investigator (PI). After being appointed chair at UB, Wolfe continued in a PI role for the NeuroNEXT grant that was awarded to the SUNY system as part of the same NIH-supported network.
Wolfe has served the MGFA in numerous capacities. He has served on its Medical Scientific Advisory Board since 2001 and is its immediate past president. He co-organized the MGFA-New York Academy of Sciences 12th International Conference on Myasthenia Gravis and Related Disorders in 2012 and has organized yearly scientific sessions for the MGFA.
Currently, Wolfe and Nicholas Silvestri, MD, a faculty member in the UB Department of Neurology, together co-author a regular column, “What’s hot off the press in neuromuscular junction disorders?” for the MGFA’s newsmagazine, Foundation Focus.
According to Wolfe, his most important work is his ongoing dedication to patients with MG, whom he sees through UBMD Neurology at Buffalo General Medical Center. While at UT Southwestern, Wolfe directed its MG Clinic.
Wolfe earned his AB in biology at Princeton University and his MD at the UT Southwestern Medical School in Dallas. He trained as a neurology resident and neuromuscular fellow at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, where he began to focus on MG, under the direction of Donald Schotland as well as Mark Brown and Shawn Bird.
The MGFA supports research, patient education, patients’ services and advocacy on behalf of the MG community. For more information, visit www.myasthenia.org,
Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences is beginning a new chapter in its history with the largest medical education building under construction in the nation. The eight-story, 628,000-square-foot facility is scheduled to open in 2017. The new location puts superior medical education, clinical care and pioneering research in close proximity, anchoring Buffalo’s evolving comprehensive academic health center in a vibrant downtown setting. These new facilities will better enable the school to advance health and wellness across the life span for the people of New York and the world through research, clinical care and the education of tomorrow’s leaders in health care and biomedical sciences. The school’s faculty and residents provide care for the community’s diverse populations through strong clinical partnerships and the school’s practice plan, UBMD.