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Several pictures of doctors who are featured on the Local Legends web site

MEET LOCAL LEGEND: Audrey Penn, M.D.

Picture of Audrey Penn
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Audrey Penn, M.D.

“If you are interested in science and medicine, then do it. It's not going to be easy. But there is a lot of exciting research out there to be done, with many opportunities in all areas of science and medicine. You just have to get out there and learn about it.”

NOMINATING CONGRESSIONAL REPRESENTATIVE

Chris Van Hollen

“LEADING NEUROLOGIST AND NEUROMUSCULAR SCIENTIST”

BIOGRAPHY

One of the nation's leading neurologists and a well-known scientist specializing in neuromuscular disease research, Audrey S. Penn is Deputy Director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). She is especially well-known for her clinical expertise and accomplishments in research on myasthenia gravis, a rare disorder characterized by muscle weakness which affects 25,000 persons in the United States.

Saying he was "honored to have a 'Local Legend' from my congressional district," Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-8-MD) praised Penn for her "four decades of sustained excellence in medical scholarship, clinical research, academia, and the management of one of America's most complex and important medical research facilities."

"My job goes all the way from making policy regarding finding the causes of neurological disorders, to training new neurologists and scientists, to dealing with patients and the general public," Penn says. "We try to look down the road and make predictions about what will work in solving the problems of people with neurological disorders."

A native of New York City, after high school she attended Swarthmore College in Swarthmore, Pa., where she majored in chemistry and received her B.A. in 1956. But she found she wanted a career that gave her more human contact. "I realized that chemistry didn't have as much to do with people as I wanted," says Penn. "So I applied to medical school."

Penn, an African American, began medical school at a time when few women or minorities became doctors. "My medical school class was only 10 percent female, and there were only one or two other minorities," says Penn. "But I was fortunate. There were so few people like me, I didn't get much flak."

She received her M.D. in 1960 from Columbia University's College of Physicians & Surgeons, and trained in neurology at the Neurological Institute, Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center. She was an NINDS special fellow for postgraduate training in the biochemistry of muscle proteins implicated in muscle diseases. This later evolved into work on the acetylcholine receptor, the target protein in myasthenia gravis.

As NINDS Deputy Director, Penn works with the Director in program planning and allocating the Institute's budget, and overseeing the Institute's staff of scientists, physician-scientists, and administrators. NINDS basic and clinical neurological research programs include fundamental neurological sciences, stroke, and central nervous system trauma. The Institute also sponsors training programs for scientists pursuing biomedical research careers.

Before moving to Washington, she was Professor of Neurology at Columbia University's College of Physicians & Surgeons and practiced neurology at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center. She is a former president of the American Neurological Association (ANA) and previously a Director of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, Inc. In addition to the ANA, her professional memberships include the American Academy of Neurology, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Harvey Society, and the Association for Research in Nervous and Mental Disease. Her position as NINDS Deputy Director followed a term serving on the Institute's National Advisory Neurological Disorders and Stroke Council.

MILESTONES

1982

Appointed Professor of Neurology, College of Physicians & Surgeons, Columbia University

1995

Named Deputy Director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS)

BORN

1934

MEDICAL SCHOOL

Columbia University, College of Physicians & Surgeons

SPECIALTY

Neurology

LOCATION

Maryland