Chui named chair of Dept. of Neurology

by Lori Oliwenstein
Helena Chui

Helena Chui has been named chair of the Department of Neurology of the Keck School of Medicine of USC.

Chui, the Raymond and Betty McCarron Chair in Neurology, became acting chair of the department in 2003, after Leslie Weiner, the Richard Angus Grant Sr. Chair in Neurology, stepped down to devote more time to his research in multiple sclerosis. Weiner had been department chair for 23 years.

Chui is the sixth chair of the department in its 73-year history, and the first woman to hold the title. Among her goals is to move the Department of Neurology into the top 10 departments of neurology in national rankings. She has begun working towards that goal with an internal review of the department, which led to the implementation of a new organizational structure.

“Helena Chui is a strong and visionary leader whose accomplishments in research and clinical care make her a perfect fit for this department,” said Stephen J. Ryan, dean of the Keck School. “She is not only an internationally recognized researcher, but a committed and empathetic physician, whose talents can only better this already stellar department. I’m thrilled that she has chosen to take on this new challenge, and convinced that under her stewardship, the Department of Neurology will continue to grow and to flourish.”

He added, “She will build on the great success of the department under Les Weiner. I am delighted that Les and the neurological faculty are so enthusiastic and supportive of Helena as their new chair.”

Chui said she has benefited from the encouragement of many supporters and mentors throughout her career, from her parents to Weiner to USC gerontologist Caleb Finch. “Now I can turn around and help mentor others, as Caleb Finch and Leslie Weiner have done for me,” she said.

Chui said that her role is to “help sustain a wonderful group of faculty dedicated to the three-fold mission of patient care, training and medical discovery.”

She added: “This is a great time in neurology because science, genetics, proteomics, computerized information technology, imaging—they can all converge. It's an incredibly exciting time for the whole field and for USC. It's inspiring because there's a real commitment to excellence here.”

Chui's own fruitful clinical and research career has been focused on dementia—in particular, dementia caused by Alzheimer's disease and chronic ischemia, in which brain tissue is deprived of blood flow repeatedly or over long periods of time. She is director of the federally funded USC Alzheimer's Disease Research Center, as well as the state-funded Alzheimer Research Center of California. Her work on finding the cause of vascular (or small-vessel) dementia is currently being funded by a five-year, $9.2-million grant from the National Institute on Aging.

She is no less focused on patient care, stating, “I have always believed that my first calling is to provide quality care to patients and families struggling with dementia.” The department's clinical activities extend to four different teaching hospitals: USC University Hospital, LAC+USC Medical Center, Childrens Hospital Los Angeles and Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center.

Only once a strong clinical foundation has been established, Chui said, can a strong clinical research program be built. “We will be faced for the foreseeable future with the overwhelming challenge of caring for patients and families struggling with dementia,” she noted. “Tremendous advances have been made during the past two decades in understanding the causes of dementia, but we really don't know how distant lies the cure.”

The Department of Neurology currently has seven divisions, with 41 primary faculty appointments. It has routinely ranked high in National Institutes of Health funding among U.S. departments of neurology.