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Neul named new director of the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center

by | Mar. 7, 2017, 11:37 AM

Jeffrey Neul, M.D., Ph.D., division head of Child Neurology and vice chair for Developmental Neurosciences at the University of California, San Diego, has been named the new director of the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center. He will join Vanderbilt on Aug. 1.

Jeffrey Neul, M.D., Ph.D.

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

Neul, a child neurologist, is an internationally recognized expert in genetic neurodevelopmental disorders, specifically Rett Syndrome, which primarily affects girls and is characterized by loss of hand skills and spoken language and development of repetitive hand movements. He conducts clinical research and clinical trials on Rett syndrome, genetic research to identify other genetic causes of neurodevelopmental disorders, and translational research using disease models to identify and test novel treatment modalities for these disorders.

“The Kennedy Center has a storied history in the field of developmental disabilities research and treatment, and is one of Vanderbilt’s crown jewels. We are delighted to have Dr. Neul join our leadership team in this important role. He is an outstanding physician scientist who has an impressive vision for the center’s future and we look forward to his contributions,” said Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D., President and CEO of Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) and Dean of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. “I want to again recognize and express my appreciation for the significant role that Dr. Dykens has played in the center’s growth and success during her time as director.”

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, health care and other service providers. Clinicians, students and researchers, nationally and internationally, come to learn the center’s latest innovations. The center collaboratively supports world-class programs across many of the schools of Vanderbilt University, including a unique relationship with Peabody College of Education and Human Development, where faculty and students share in research and learning opportunities across a host of areas.

“Dr. Neul will be a tremendous asset to the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center,” said Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Susan Wente, Ph.D. “His knowledge, research and vision will carry on the center’s enduring legacy of championing research that improves the lives of those with developmental disabilities.”

Camilla Benbow, Ed.D., Patricia and Rhodes Hart Dean of the College of Education and Human Development, and Steven Webber, M.B.Ch.B., James C. Overall Professor and chair of the Department of Pediatrics, 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,” Webber said.

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.

“The Vanderbilt Kennedy Center and Peabody College have a long history of excellence in meeting the needs of children with developmental and intellectual disabilities,” Benbow said. “I am confident that we have found an outstanding director in Dr. Neul, not only to strengthen that legacy but to expand it to encompass new horizons of discovery, treatment and service.”

A native of Chicago, Neul earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, his medical and doctorate 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, M.D.

“The opportunity to join Vanderbilt is very appealing for many reasons,” Neul said. “The Kennedy Center’s amazing history, with 50 years of accomplishments and achievements, and the potential to bring together existing strengths and to develop new programs creates a unique combination to create future directions for developmental disabilities. These opportunities range from education and behavioral therapies, to basic scientific discovery and the development of new biological therapeutics for these disorders.”

“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 said.

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


Media Inquiries:
John Howser, (615) 322-4747
john.howser@vanderbilt.edu