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A Historic Day for Neuroscience at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine

Author: Gerald D. Klee, MD
Publication Year: Winter 2006
Edition Vol. 32
Type of resource: Newsletter


On November 11, 2005, the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine celebrated the 25th anniversary of its Department of Neuroscience and honored its founder Solomon Snyder, MD. A gala dinner was held, hosted by the departments of Neurology, Neuroscience, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry. The event also celebrated Johns Hopkins’ first century of neuroscience, which dates back to Harvey Cushing and Walter Dandy and, more recently, Vernon Mountcastle.

Eminent speakers included University President William R. Brody, MD, Medical School Dean Edward Miller, MD, Senator Barbara Mikulski and famed pianist Leon Fleisher, who also entertained guests by playing Brahms Waltzes, opus 39. Dr. Brody said, "The originality, diversity and scope of Sol's discoveries are legendary. They exceed those of possibly any other neuroscientist in the past half-century. Sol has been at Hopkins for 40 years now, and we all stand in awe of what he has achieved."

Dean Miller announced that the Department of Neuroscience will be renamed in recognition of Snyder's lifetime of achievement at Johns Hopkins and his extraordinary generosity. "We want to make sure that the scope and originality and significance of Sol's many contributions to Johns Hopkins and to the field of neuroscience will always be recognized," Miller said. "It is my great pleasure and honor to announce that henceforth these tremendous research advances will come from the Solomon H. Snyder Department of Neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine."

Snyder will step down as director of the department later this year when a new director is found to replace him. However he will remain as a full-time faculty member and will continue to head his research lab.

Sol entered a psychiatric residency at Johns Hopkins in 1965 and by 1970 he was a full professor of psychiatry and pharmacology. Hopkins nearly lost him in 1980, when Rockefeller University made an exceptionally attractive offer to him and his colleagues (and former students) Joe Coyle and Mike Kuhar. Hopkins Dean Richard Ross came up with a counter offer that was accepted. Years earlier, an advisory committee had recommended that Hopkins establish a Department of Neuroscience. Ross suggested a “mini-department” of neuroscience, comprised solely of Snyder, Coyle and Kuhar, which might integrate Hopkins neuroscience. (1) At the time, neuroscience was spread out among many departments.

The Department of Neuroscience, which started on a shoestring, has since grown into the Medical School’s most famous basic science department. At its inception, the department was one of the first in the nation, and today it is the largest of the eight basic science departments at the School of Medicine, with 25 primary faculty. Another 78 Hopkins faculty have secondary or joint appointments in neuroscience, including two dozen or so whose primary appointments are in the departments of Neurology, Neurosurgery or Psychiatry. A fifth of the world's top neuroscientists--four out of the top twenty--are faculty members at Johns Hopkins, according to Science Watch.

At the dinner it was also announced that Snyder has made substantial gifts to Hopkins.  An article in the Baltimore Sun (2) revealed that over the past 19 years Snyder has contributed gifts totaling almost $30 million to the Johns Hopkins Neuroscience Department that will be used by Hopkins scientists trying to unravel the brain's mysteries and to treat its ills.

The gifts represent the largest amount ever given by a faculty member to the medical school.

Snyder is a founder of two local biotechnology companies, both of which have been sold to larger companies.

Earlier in the day there was a daylong symposium titled “Molecules to the Mind”, A Celebration of Brain Science at Johns Hopkins. Two Nobel laureates, Richard Axel and Eric Kandel, and six other leading neuroscientists from around the country -- Cornelia Bargmann, Roger Nicoll, Carla Shatz, William T. Newsome III, Fred Gage and Huda Zoghbi, presented their most recent findings on topics such as understanding smell, vision, learning and memory, decision-making, and spinocerebellar ataxias.

Snyder plans to continue his research, which focuses on how existing drugs impact the brain and how new drugs could be developed with fewer side effects.

"I thought it would be nice to have a little more time for my research," he said. "We have some very exciting leads right now that I'm not ready to talk about."

Snyder is a Distinguished Life fellow of the Maryland Psychiatric Society and of the American Psychiatric Association.

An interview with Dr. Snyder in which he described his research appeared in the Fall 2005 issue of TMP.


1. Snyder, Solomon H.; Neuroscience at Johns Hopkins, Historical Perspective, Neuron; Vol 48, Number 2; October 20, 2005, 201-211

2. Baltimore Sun, November 11, 2005, Doctor reveals gift to Johns Hopkins
By Jonathan Bor



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