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Notable Figures

Many eminent scientists and physicians have been associated with the Montreal Neurological Institute. Here are short biographies of some who have earned international recognition for their research in neuroscience, for their expert and compassionate care of patients with neurological diseases, and for their leadership in establishing outstanding training programs in neurology and neurosurgery.


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Wilder Penfield

Wilder Graves PENFIELD, MD
(1891 - 1976)
Director 1934 - 1960
A nationwide poll voted the founder and first director of the Montreal Neurological Institute as one of Canada’s greatest citizens. Penfield was born in Spokane, Washington in 1891. He graduated from Princeton University and attended Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar, studying with the eminent medical pioneers, Sir William Osler and Charles Sherrington. Penfield’s medical degree was earned at Johns Hopkins University. After practicing surgery in New York City, Penfield continued his training in Spain and Germany where he learned revolutionary research and surgical techniques. He introduced these methods at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal when he arrived there in 1928.

With an award of $1.2 million from the Rockefeller Foundation and the support of private donors, foundations, and government and university officials, Penfield founded the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital at McGill University in 1934. Then, as now, the MNI was a unique and much emulated centre for the close integration of neuroscience research and clinical practice. Over the next 26 years, Penfield and his colleagues established the world's premier clinical, research and training centre by developing surgical treatment for epilepsy, recording from the brain during surgery, establishing sophisticated behavioral tests for pre- and post-surgical evaluation, and making many other important advances.

Retiring as Director in 1960, Penfield continued to write, adding novels and medical biographies to the list of his work. Before his death in 1976, Penfield’s writing probed speculatively about the nature of human consciousness and the soul.

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Theodore Rasmussen

Theodore Brown RASMUSSEN, MD
(1910 - 2002)
Director 1960 - 1972
Born in Utah in 1910 the son of a physician, Rasmussen studied medicine at the University of Minnesota. He interned at Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn, New York and completed his neurosurgical training at the Montreal Neurological Institute. During the Second World War, Rasmussen served as a neurosurgeon in the U.S. Army in southeast Asia, achieving the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. After the war, he was professor of neurosurgery at the University of Chicago. In 1954, he returned to the MNI and six years later, succeeded Wilder Penfield as Director. As a surgeon, Rasmussen had vast experience operating on epilepsy patients, and compiled an immense, meticulous database of information about the disease. He discovered what came to be known as Rasmussen’s Syndrome or Rasmussen’s Disease, a rare disorder of the nervous system that affects children. He was President of the Society of Neurological Surgeons and received its Distinguished Service Award. Rasmussen was a fine jazz clarinetist and saxophonist, long-distance runner, and a skilled golfer and skier. He died in 2002.

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Bill Feindel

(1918 - 2014)
Director 1972 - 1984
A Nova Scotian born in 1918, Feindel studied at Acadia University and Dalhousie University before taking his medical degree at McGill University. A Rhodes Scholar, he received a D. Phil. from Oxford University in 1949. He completed his surgical residency at the Montreal Neurological Institute. He founded the Neurosurgical Department at the University Hospital in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan in 1955. Four years later, he returned to the MNI, where he became the first William Cone Professor of Neurosurgery. He succeeded Theodore Rasmussen as MNI Director in 1972. During his twelve years as director, Feindel introduced the first CAT and MRI units in Canada and installed Canada’s first PET system using a miniature cyclotron. During his tenure, the MNI expanded with new facilities to house the McConnell Brain Imaging Centre. Feindel is the official curator of the Wilder Penfield Archive and is the MNI’s historian. Among his distinctions are membership in the Order of Canada, the Royal Society of Canada and the National Order of Quebec. He was inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame in 2003. Feindel is an accomplished pianist.

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Donald Baxter

(1926 - 2012)
Director 1984 - 1992 and 2000 - 2002
A medical graduate of Queen’s University, Baxter received training as a neurologist at the Montreal Neurological Institute, at Kingston General Hospital and at Boston City Hospital. In 1962, he was appointed Associate Professor of Neurology at McGill University. He served as the chair of the Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery and was a President of the Canadian Neurological Association. In 1984, he succeeded William Feindel as MNI Director, a post that he held for eight years. He served again for two years as Interim Director in 2000. The author of a large number of scientific papers on neurological diseases, Baxter was named an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1996.

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Richard Murphy

Richard MURPHY, PhD
Director 1992 - 2000
Born in New Jersey, Murphy earned a Ph.D. at Rutgers University. He later taught at Harvard University Medical School, where he repeatedly won distinction as an outstanding teacher. In 1986, he was appointed chair of the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology, University of Alberta. In 1992, he succeeded Donald Baxter as Director of the Montreal Neurological Institute, becoming the first research scientist to hold the post. His tenure marked a period of rapid growth. He introduced molecular medicine to the MNI, hiring a score of outstanding young scientists skilled in the latest techniques to study the workings of the nervous system at the molecular level. New laboratories were built for the Centre for Neuronal Survival. In 1999, the new Brain Tumour Research Centre was opened as the first centre in Canada devoted to investigating the causes of brain tumours. Murphy departed Montreal in 2000 to become President and Chief Executive Officer of the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California, where he remained until July, 2007.

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Dr. David Colman

David R. COLMAN, PhD
(1949 - 2011)
Director 2002 - 2011
Dr. David R. Colman was the Director of the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital (The Neuro) and the Wilder Penfield Professor of Neuroscience at McGill University.

Dr. Colman received his Bachelor of Science (Biology) with minors in English and Geology from New York University (1970) and his Ph.D. in Neuroscience from the State University of New York (1977).

Prior to becoming the Director in 2002, he was the Annenberg Professor of Molecular Biology and Neuroscience, the Vice-Chairman for Research in the Department of Neurology, and the Scientific Director of The Corinne Goldsmith Dickinson Center for Multiple Sclerosis of The Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.

Dr. Colman’s research focuses on problems related to myelination, spinal cord injury, and nerve cell development and regeneration. His laboratory has made major contributions to our understanding of how nerves are protected and nurtured by the myelin sheath in the brain and in the peripheral nervous system and how nerve cells communicate with each other across the synapse.

Under Dr. Colman’s leadership, The MNI was re-integrated with the MNH as The Neuro. We launched a $40 million capital campaign and were named one of the first Canadian national Centres of Excellence in Research and Commercialization. He has worked with colleagues to develop McGill’s Neuroengineering Program and the Integrated Program in Neuroscience, and is working with the National Film Board of Canada on an IMAX film about neuroscience, "Neuropolis."


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Frederick Andermann

Recognized as a world authority on epilepsy, Andermann was born in Ukraine and immigrated to Canada in 1950. He has practiced medicine at McGill University teaching hospitals for more than 40 years, training experts in the care and treatment of epilepsy around the world. Andermann, with his wife, neurologist Eva Andermann, has characterized several epileptic syndromes. Andermann served as President of the Canadian Neurological Society and received the Distinguished Investigator Award from the American Epilepsy Society. He received the Quebec government’s highest medical distinction, the Prix Wilder-Penfield, and in 2006 was made an Officer of the Order of Canada.

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Herbert Jasper
Herbert JASPER, MD

A distinguished figure in neuroscience, Herbert Jasper arrived at the MNI from the United States in the 1930s. He was a pioneer in the use of electroencephalography (EEG) a technique that he largely introduced to Canada and helped to develop into an essential neuroscience tool. In collaboration with MNI founder, Wilder Penfield, Jasper employed EEG to find the source of seizures in epilepsy and in other brain disorders. Together they wrote scientific papers about the brain’s functional anatomy that had widespread influence. Jasper died in 1999.

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George Karpati

One of Canada’s most distinguished neurologists, Karpati was until his death in February, 2009, a world-renowned expert on neuromuscular diseases. He was an expert in Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a form of the disease that affects boys. In 2001, in recognition of his “seminal contributions in the area of muscular dystrophy,” he was admitted as an Officer of the Order of Canada. Among his other distinctions, he was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and a Knight of the National Order of Quebec. Dr. Karpati was the Izaak Walton Killam Professor of Neurology at the MNI.

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Brenda Milner
Brenda MILNER, PhD

An illustrious member of the Montreal Neurological Institute for more than half a century, Brenda Milner is among the most famous neuroscientists in the world as a result of her groundbreaking work in neuropsychology. Born in England and a graduate of Cambridge University, Milner joined the MNI in 1950. Early in her career, she published a work on HM, a famous patient whose surgically induced memory deficit led to Milner’s classic studies in memory function. Milner continues to publish her research on the function of the hippocampus and the function of the temporal, frontal and parietal lobes as they relate to memory, speech and language. She has been awarded more than a score of honorary degrees and received some of the most prestigious distinctions, including the Gairdner Prize, Order of Canada, Foreign Associate of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and others. Dr. Milner is the Dorothy J. Killam Professor of Neurology and Neurosurgery at the MNI.

Page last updated: May. 13, 2014 at 10:44 AM