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In Memoriam: Gilbert H. Glaser 1920-2012

February 06, 2012

Gilbert H. Glaser, the founding chair of the Department of Neurology at Yale and a member of the faculty since 1952, died on January 21, 2012, at the Hospital of St. Raphael in New Haven. Dr. Glaser was professor emeritus at the School of Medicine and an international authority in epilepsy. He is widely acknowledged as one of the founders of neurology as an independent discipline.

Dr. Glaser was born in New York on November 10, 1920, and raised in New Jersey. He received his undergraduate and medical degrees from Columbia University and trained as a resident with Tracy Putnam, who developed the drug Dilantin, at the Neurological Institute of Columbia University. From 1946 through 1948, he served as director of the electroencephalography (EEG) laboratory at Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas. Dr. Glaser served as an assistant attending and chief of the neurology clinic at the Neurology Institute in New York prior to moving to Yale in 1952 as assistant professor and head of the section of neurology, then a division within the Department of Internal Medicine. He was appointed a full professor in 1963. Neurology became a freestanding department in 1971, with Dr. Glaser serving as its chair until his semiretirement in 1986. He retired fully in 1991.

Dr. Glaser's work in neurology and neuroscience as both an investigator and a teacher advanced both disciplines internationally. In the area of epilepsy, his research expanded treatment through surgical and non-surgical techniques. His program was one of the first to identify the specific location of epileptic discharge and to remove it surgically. He was a leader in understanding how anticonvulsant drugs work and which seizures are best treated by the drugs that were available. His students were among the first to describe the clinical characteristics of seizures of the frontal, parietal, and occipital lobes. Renowned for such clinical excellence and pioneering research, Yale's epilepsy program was one of the nation's first and has evolved into one of the most active and advanced in the world. Dr. Glaser was the principal investigator for one of the first NIH epilepsy program project grants. This research remained through the time of Dr. Glaser's retirement and was continued by his team until 2005.

Dr. Glaser was the recipient of many awards, including the W.G. Lennox Award of the American Epilepsy Society in 1963. This award is given to one individual worldwide for a lifetime of outstanding contributions to the field of epilepsy. He served as president of the American Academy of Neurology from 1973 through 1975 and as president of the American Epilepsy Society in 1963. He was appointed editor of the journal Epilepsia in 1958, serving in that capacity through 1976, and he served on the editorial boards of many journals, including the Journal of Neurological Sciences, Archives of Neurology, and the Journal of Nervous and Mental Diseases. He was the author of more than 200 papers, responsible for seminal work on spasmodic torticollis, the use of ACTH in multiple sclerosis, and the major neurologic complications of cortisone therapy, including electrolyte alterations, psychosis, and epilepsy. He also wrote extensively on the manifestations of psychomotor seizures in childhood, and the neurological manifestations of medical conditions, especially collagen diseases, thyroid disease, and hepatic and renal failure. He was among the first to describe the development of inappropriate ADH secretion in patients with cerebral lesions. He authored key articles on the management of cerebrovascular disease, spasticity, and the cerebellar control of movement.

Dr. Glaser was always fascinated by the interface between neurology and psychiatry, writing and editing important publications in this area, including the effects of topectomy, interictal psychosis, behavioral disorders and the EEG, the syndrome of minimal brain damage, violence, and neuropsychological aspects of epilepsy. He wrote on the physiology of dystrophic muscle, myasthenia gravis, and contributed to the literature of the electroencephalogram, using it both as a tool for the investigation of disorders of the brain and mind and also as the subject of his investigation.

Internationally, his scientific eminence was recognized by election to many academic societies. He was a fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine, a member of the British EEG Society, and an honorary member of the Association of British Neurologists, the Medical Association and Academy of Croatia, the Association of Electroencephalogy and Clinical Neurophysiology of Yugoslavia, the Atheneum (London), and the Oxford Medical Society. He served on the WHO Committee on Epilepsy (1960–70) and was a delegate of the American Academy of Neurology and the American Neurological Association to the World Federation of Neurology and Congress of Neurology (1977–81). A confirmed Anglophile, he returned often to his other home in Oxford, England, and visited the English countryside with pleasure.

Dr. Glaser remained active in medical affairs and in the Department of Neurology to the extent his chronic illness allowed. Although frail toward the end, he remained mentally very bright and was a fascinating conversationalist.

In honor of Dr. Glaser's work, Yale established an annual epilepsy fellowship in 1988, created the Gilbert H. Glaser Lectureship in 2006, and established the Gilbert H. Glaser Professorship in 2010. The current chair of neurology, David A. Hafler, M.D., is the first incumbent of the Glaser Professorship.

Dr. Glaser is survived by his wife, Morfydd, and his children, Gareth and Sara.

Submitted by Liz Pantani on May 21, 2013