Dr. D. James Surmeier is the Nathan Smith Davis Professor and Chair of the Department of Physiology at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University and Director of the Morris K. Udall Parkinson’s Disease Research Center of Excellence at Northwestern University. Dr. Surmeier received his Ph.D. in Physiology and Biophysics from the University of Washington in 1983. He trained with leaders in the field of neurophysiology, including Dr. Arnold Towe, Dr. William Willis and Dr. Stephen Kitai. In 1998, he moved to the Department of Physiology at Northwestern University and assumed his current position as chair in 2001.
Using an array of cutting-edge approaches, Dr. Surmeier’s research program focuses physiological determinants of Parkinson’s and Huntington’s diseases. His work has identified the molecular determinants of network dysfunction in both diseases, paving the way for novel pharmacological and genetic therapies. His pursuit of the mechanisms underlying selective neuronal vulnerability in Parkinson’s disease has led to the identification of activity-dependent calcium entry through Cav1 Ca2+ channels as a primary trigger for mitochondrial oxidant stress in at-risk neurons, providing a potential explanation for the selective vulnerability of substantia nigra dopaminergic neurons – neurons whose loss underlies the cardinal motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Corroborated by epidemiological studies, this discovery study has led to a major Phase III clinical trial in North America to determine the ability of the dihydropyridine isradipine to slow the progression of early stage Parkinson’s disease.
He has authored well over 200 peer-reviewed publications in journals such as Science, Nature, Neuron, Nature Neuroscience and the Journal of Neuroscience. His rigorous pursuit of fundamental questions has led to broad citation of his publications, as reflected in his h-index (>80) and m-index (136) statistics. He has served in several advisory capacities to the National Institutes of Health, including chairing study sections for NINDS and acting as a Councilor for NIAAA. He also has served on the scientific advisory boards of many private foundations, including the Hereditary Disease Foundation, the Dystonia Medical Research Foundation, the Hartman Foundation, and the Bachmann-Strauss Dystonia and Parkinson’s Disease Foundation. He serves on a number of editorial boards including those of Neuron, Current Opinion in Neurobiology and Movement Disorders. He has received many scientific awards including being named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, NARSAD Established Investigator, Jacob Javits Neuroscience Investigator, BAM Patient Impact Research Award, BioScience Awards Midwest, the C.D. Marsden Award and the F.E. Bennett Award.