Neul takes helm at Vanderbilt Kennedy Center

Published on January 18th, 2018 by Diana Duren.

Jeffrey Neul, MD, PhD

Jeffrey Neul, MD, PhD, joined Vanderbilt Aug. 1, 2017,  as the new director of the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center.

Neul succeeds Elisabeth Dykens, PhD, professor of Pediatrics, Psychology and Human Development, and the Kennedy Center’s director since 2009. Dykens will continue to lead research programs in Prader-Willi, Williams and Down syndromes.

Neul most recently served as division head of Child Neurology and vice chair for Developmental Neurosciences at the University of California, San Diego, and is an internationally recognized expert in genetic neurodevelopmental disorders. Specifically, he studies Rett syndrome, which primarily affects girls and is characterized by loss of hand skills and spoken language. He conducts clinical research and clinical trials on Rett syndrome, genetic research to identify other causes of neurodevelopmental disorders, and translational research using disease models to identify and test novel treatment modalities for these disorders.

For more than 50 years the Kennedy Center has led groundbreaking research into the mysteries of developmental disabilities. In addition to being one of the nation’s leading centers of interdisciplinary research seeking breakthroughs in prevention and treatment for developmental diseases, the center offers the region’s most comprehensive array of services to people with disabilities, families, educators, healthcare and other service providers.

Steven Webber, MBChB, James C. Overall Professor and chair of the Department of Pediatrics, and Camilla Benbow, EdD, Patricia and Rhodes Hart Dean of the College of Education and Human Development, co-chaired the committee that conducted the national search that identified Neul.

“We are delighted to welcome Dr. Neul to Vanderbilt. He is an outstanding clinician, teacher and neuroscientist, widely respected for his contributions to our understanding of rare neurologic disorders of childhood. He is equally comfortable in the laboratory and in the clinic, and is passionate about improving the lives of children and adults with intellectual disabilities,” said Webber, who is also pediatrician-in-chief of Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt.

Neul joins Vanderbilt with a number of actively funded studies that are supported through the National Institutes of Health, the Rett Syndrome Foundation and other sources. He is the author of numerous high-impact, peer-reviewed publications and manuscripts and a frequently invited presenter on the topic of Rett syndrome.

A native of Chicago, Neul earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, his medical and doctoral degrees from the Pritzker School of Medicine at the University of Chicago and completed his residency and fellowship in child neurology at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital. He completed post-doctoral training at Baylor in the laboratory of Huda Zogbi, MD.

“What drew me to the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center was the history and international reputation. These strengths, combined with the Kennedy Center’s connections to the broader Vanderbilt community, really give us an opportunity to develop precision care for developmental disabilities that may span many different types of interventions, from educational therapies to targeted gene therapy,” Neul said. “I think we have such a great opportunity to develop new ideas for how we help people with developmental disabilities. My overall goal is to enhance the idea that the Kennedy Center is the leading center for the development of precision care for developmental disabilities. We are going to figure out the best approaches to help people with disabilities through individualized or personalized methods.”

Neul says he’s excited to be part of a program that houses such distinctive federally funded programs. He hopes to streamline research opportunities for patients that span from registries to intervention trials.

“I want everyone who comes to see us to be presented with opportunities to participate in research,” Neul said. “Being in clinical care and being in research should be a seamless transition, so that things we learn in the clinic can guide research, and research can potentially guide how we deliver care.”

Neul is joined in Nashville by his wife, Shari, who is a pediatric clinical psychologist, and their children, Collette, 12, and Konrad, 10.

– by Jennifer Wetzel