Six months after appointing a prominent Harvard doctor to direct the Yale Cancer Center, the University has lured another top researcher from Cambridge.
David Hafler, a Harvard Medical School neurologist and a leading expert on the genetic basis of multiple sclerosis, has been named the chief and chair of neurology at Yale-New Haven Hospital and Yale School of Medicine.
“He’s an outstanding recruit,” Medical School Dean Robert Alpern said in a telephone interview. “His research made him an outstanding candidate — there was never any question he was the best researcher of all the candidates we looked at.”
At Yale, Hafler will be charged with expanding the clinical neurology department, especially into his area of expertise – MS.
“I’m excited to be able to translate Yale’s excellence in science to the development of new therapies and to understanding disease,” he said.
In a telephone interview, Hafler cited the quality of the Yale School of Medicine’s faculty, the opportunities for creative, collaborative research and the resources the school is able to offer despite the economic downturn as key factors in decision to accept the position at Yale.
And as Hafler settles into New Haven, he will be spending a fair amount of time encouraging others to join him. Alpern said the medical school has allocated for Hafler a significant amount of recruitment funding both to allow him to hire researchers from his Harvard lab and to recruit investigators from other institutions.
In the interview, Hafler said one of his first recruitment priorities will be to find new leadership for the neurology side of the Yale School of Medicine’s epilepsy program. School of Medicine professor Susan Spencer died unexpectedly May 23 from complications of an acute intestinal illness; at the time, the world-renowned researcher and physician was serving as co-director with her husband, Dennis Spencer, the chair of the Department of Neurosurgery at the medical school.
Hafler will officially take up his post Sept. 1 and said the moving trucks are already arriving at his home in Newton, Mass. A member of the Harvard Medical School faculty since 1984, Hafler was a neurologist at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and the Jack, Sadie and David Breakstone Professor of Neurology at Harvard.
While at Harvard, he was a primary investigator of the Whole Genome Association Study, which in 2007 used an advanced gene-hunting method to discover two genetic variations that the study’s researchers believed could be at the genetic root of MS. The discovery provided insights into why an MS-afflicted individual’s cells turn against the body.
The paper was published in the New England Journal of Medicine and two other papers published independently and concurrently in Nature Genetics confirmed the results.
The research group he leads at Harvard, the Hafler Laboratory of Molecular Immunology, has also completed the largest replicated whole genome scan for MS. Hafler said he hopes to move his entire Harvard lab team to New Haven.
Also relocating to assume new duties in New Haven is Hafler’s wife, Janet, who will become the medical school’s assistant dean for educational scholarship in mid-September. Until approximately a year ago, she served as dean of educational development at the Tufts University School of Medicine and prior to that spent 19 years at Harvard Medical School, where she last served as director of faculty development.
“Basically what she’s going to bring to us is something new,” Alpern said. “Her expertise is teaching faculty how to teach.”
In the interview, David Hafler said that come fall he and his wife will be based out of New Haven, but that he will be spending about two days per week in Boston until the spring as he moves his laboratory. An active member of the House system at Harvard, Hafler added that he and his wife are looking forward to getting involved in Yale’s residential colleges, too.
Hafler’s appointment is the second major recruitment effort this year in which the medical school has successfully wooed a Harvard professor. On April 1, former Harvard professor Thomas Lynch ’82 MED ’86 was named the director of the Yale Cancer Center and physician in chief for the new Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale-New Haven Hospital, which is slated to open in October.