Timothy M. Miller, MD, PhD, a leading researcher in the neurodegenerative disorder amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), has been named the David Clayson Professor of Neurology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
The professorship was established in 2001 through a bequest from David Clayson, PhD, to support innovative research into treatments for ALS, the fatal paralyzing disorder also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Clayson, who graduated from the School of Medicine in 1963, died of ALS in 2001.
In ALS, the nerve cells that control muscles die, leading to gradual paralysis and death. Miller is investigating what causes these nerve cells to die and potential approaches for keeping them alive.
“Dr. Miller is doing very innovative work on a number of fronts in ALS research,” said Larry J. Shapiro, MD, executive vice chancellor for medical affairs and dean of the School of Medicine. “His studies — including a first-of-its-kind clinical trial of a new approach to ALS therapy — have produced intriguing results that made him an outstanding recipient for the Clayson professorship.”
Cutting-edge treatments under investigation in the Miller laboratory include microRNAs, small pieces of genetic material that can silence genes, possibly including the genes involved in ALS.
Miller and his colleagues have identified changes in microRNAs in a mouse model of ALS and in tissue samples from people with ALS, and are working to determine if the changes cause ALS and if they can be blocked, he explained.
“Dr. Miller excels at finding ways to apply the latest techniques for modifying biological systems to the challenges of treating ALS and other disorders that have long resisted our attempts to stop them,” said David Holtzman, MD, the Andrew B. and Gretchen P. Jones Professor of Neurology and head of the Department of Neurology.
Miller is the director of the Christopher Wells Hobler Laboratory for ALS Research at the Hope Center for Neurological Disorders at Washington University, a center dedicated to improving the lives of people with neurological disorders through research into the causes of and potential treatments for such disorders. The center is a collaboration between the university and Hope Happens, a St. Louis-based organization that promotes awareness, education and fundraising regarding research into neurological disorders.
Miller also is a scientific advisory and executive committee member of the Northeast ALS Consortium, a member of the American Academy of Neurology, the American Neurological Association and the Society for Neuroscience.
He earned his medical degree and PhD at the School of Medicine in 1998. He then trained as a neurology resident and neuromuscular fellow at the University of California, San Francisco, from 1998-2003. He next moved to the University of California, San Diego, where he spent four years as part of the Mentored Scientist Clinical Training Program there, doing postdoctoral work on disease models of ALS.
Clayson earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy at the University of Utah in 1956, a master’s degree in clinical psychology at George Washington University in 1960, and his doctorate in clinical psychology at Washington University in St. Louis in 1963. He completed a predoctoral fellowship at Jefferson Barracks Veterans Administration (VA) Medical Center in St. Louis; interned at the VA Mental Hygiene Clinic in Washington; and was a postdoctoral fellow at the John Cochran VA Medical Center in St. Louis.
For 25 years, he was the head of psychology at the Payne Whitney Clinic at Weill Cornell Medical College. In 2001, he became the college’s first recipient of the Dean’s Award for Lifetime Achievement in Teaching.
Clayson co-founded what is now the Association of Psychologists in Academic Health Centers. He was a leading authority on psychological testing and also contributed to improved recognition of the significant psychological aspects of illness.