Dr. S. Thomas Carmichael has been elected to the Association of American Physicians, an honor society recognizing exemplary physician-scientists who contribute to clinical medicine through the pursuit of basic science. The newly elected members for 2021 were recognized at the association’s annual meeting, which was held virtually April 8–10.
Carmichael, UCLA’s Frances Stark Professor of Neurology, is the chair of the neurology department in the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and co-director of the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at UCLA.
In his research, Carmichael studies how the brain rebuilds after a stroke or other injury. “For me, the approach has been bidirectional,” he said. Advances made in the lab translate to new clinical trials, while interactions with patients point to new research directions, Carmichael said.
For example, Carmichael recalls seeing several patients with a type of brain disease called vascular dementia, in which a series of small strokes damage the brain. These patients lose their ability to store and retrieve information. It’s devastating, and there’s no cure, he said.
“We catch it after it shows itself by poor memory or concentration, but we don’t know how to repair it,” Carmichael said. “We don’t yet understand the biology.”
To grow that understanding, Carmichael and his colleagues developed a mouse model to study vascular dementia. “It was driven by clinical experience and a sense of clinical futility,” he said.
While a mouse model doesn’t perfectly replicate the experience of a human who has had a stroke, the model allows researchers to study how these strokes impair balance and gait, as well as learning and memory.
Carmichael’s lab is pursuing a “grand unifying theory” of brain repair: a set of general principles that describe all the ways a brain can repair itself. One aspect of this is understanding how stroke damage affects connections throughout the brain.
“We used to think, if you had a stroke, there’s a small area of damage, and then that area doesn’t work well,” Carmichael said. “But that’s a very small part of it.”
No part of the brain works in isolation, and damage from a stroke also slows down brain regions connected to the damaged area. Understanding how those connections are affected could lead to new therapies to rebuild connections and reduce disability after a stroke.
Being successful in both research and clinical care can be challenging, Carmichael said.
On being elected to the Association of American Physicians, he said, “This is a recognition of success. It’s quite an honor. It’s also an opportunity to look at how other people have done it, so that one can continue to grow in one’s career.”