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Hillel Panitch was a neurologist, neurovirologist, and neuroimmunologist who participated in the introduction and characterization of novel pharmacotherapies for patients with multiple sclerosis (MS).
Hillel S. Panitch, MD
Panitch received his bachelor's degree from Wesleyan University, followed by a Fulbright scholarship, which took him to the University of Lyon for a year. On his return to the United States, he obtained his medical degree from New York University School of Medicine. He completed an internship at Bellevue Hospital before embarking on his journey to become a clinician-scientist in neurology.
Between 1968 and 1971, Panitch was a neurology resident at the University of California, San Francisco under Robert Fishman, MD, already one of the strongest residency programs in the country. Between 1970 and 1971, he was chief resident. Following residency, he completed 5 more years as a postdoctoral fellow, first at Johns Hopkins University in neurovirology, then at the Neuroimmunology Branch at the National Institutes of Health.
Panitch went back to the West Coast to take his first academic position at University of California, San Francisco and the San Francisco VA Medical Center. After quickly being promoted to associate professor, he moved back to Maryland, where he held posts of chief of the Department of Neurology at the VA Medical Center in Baltimore and professor of the Department of Neurology at the University of Maryland. In 2000, Panitch became professor of the Department of Neurology at the University of Vermont, where he reestablished the MS Center of Northern New England and worked until the end of his career.
The professional accomplishments of Panitch are numerous. According to those who worked with him and knew him well, he was an outstanding clinician in the true sense of the word. Not only was he exceptional at observing, diagnosing, and treating patients with a broad variety of neurological conditions, he possessed a warmth and empathy that made it easy for him to connect with his patients, medical students, and neurology residents. In 2000, Panitch was awarded the Golden Hammer Award for Clinical Neurology, Resident Teaching, and Patient Care by the Department of Neurology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
As a scientist, Panitch was prolific over many decades, with his work published in the most prestigious scientific journals. He made several seminal observations. In 1987, he conducted a clinical trial with increasing doses of systemically administered interferon gamma in patients with relapsing-remitting MS. Unexpectedly, a disproportionate number of patients developed disease exacerbations during treatment, and an increase in circulating HLA-DR–positive monocytes was detected. Observations made in this trial led to several hypotheses: (1) MS disease exacerbations are immune mediated and not the consequence of viral illness; (2) interferon gamma is critical in major histocompatibility complex regulation; and (3) antagonizing the effects of interferon gamma, for instance with interferon beta, may be beneficial in MS. His long-standing interest in basic immunological research helped to unveil important immunomodulating properties of interferons and other MS therapies.
Panitch was also principal investigator and participant in many international and national trials that evaluated disease-modifying and symptomatic therapies for patients with MS, including in the pivotal Betaseron and Copaxone trials. Perhaps more importantly, these trials often evaluated novel concepts of therapeutic interventions, which included dose responses, induction therapy, and combination therapy. He also held positions on the Medical Advisory Board and the Advisory Committee on Clinical Trials at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
In addition to directly providing benefit to patients with MS through his own academic initiatives, he collaborated with many of the thought leaders in the field. He mentored numerous academic leaders in this country and abroad, to whom he was a role model with his intellectual abilities and legendary work ethic.
Panitch has affected many, not only his patients and their families, but the MS community as a whole. He was an extraordinarily gifted physician and a mensch. Those who knew him well will attest to his intellect, kindness, humble nature, and very wry sense of humor.
Correspondence: Dr Stüve, Neurology Section, VA North Texas Health Care System, Medical Service, 4500 S Lancaster Rd, Dallas, TX 75216 (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Financial Disclosure: None reported.
Stüve O, Milo R. In Memoriam: Hillel S. Panitch, MD (1940-2010). Arch Neurol. 2011;68(5):681. doi:10.1001/archneurol.2011.83