A Memorial Lectureship Fitting for a Trailblazing Female Neuroscientist

Posted in GUMC Stories

Nov. 12, 2015 — On Oct. 27, Helen Scharfman, PhD, delivered the inaugural lecture of the Karen Gale Memorial Lectureship for Outstanding Women in Neuroscience. Gale joined the faculty at Georgetown in 1977 and was a full professor in the department of pharmacology & physiology for over 25 years. She passed away on Aug. 21, 2014.

A Legacy of Research and Mentorship  

Gale was a world-renowned expert on epilepsy. Publishing over 200 papers throughout her career, she was the first to identify the crucial role of basal ganglia nuclei in the control of epilepsy, as well as the role of a region of the piriform cortex, dubbed “Area Tempestas” in the genesis of seizures.

At the inaugural lecture, Edward Healton, MD, MPH, executive vice president for health sciences and executive dean of the School of Medicine, recalled Gale’s many accomplishments.

Gale served as the founding director of the Interdisciplinary Program in Neuroscience (IPN) from 1994 to 2003. Gale was also a founding member of Georgetown Women in Medicine, an outgrowth of her advocacy on behalf of women and minority investigators.

“If you knew Karen, you knew that in addition to her recognized work in the lab, she passionately devoted her leadership and seemingly boundless energy to many other goals that she believed were important to the success of the faculty, the medical center and Georgetown University at large,” he said.

Gale was also a strong advocate for early career investigators, serving as a mentor to many graduate students over the years.

“She would engage faculty, staff and leadership in all of these advocacy roles,” said Healton, who previously served as chair of neurology at GUMC for 10 years. “She was not shy about providing direction – actually marching orders usually – about what she thought we should be doing on behalf of whatever initiative she was deeply engaged in at the time.”

A Fitting Memorial

The Karen Gale Memorial Lectureship for Outstanding Women in Neuroscience will be held annually and is jointly sponsored by IPN and the department of pharmacology & physiology. Each year, the lectureship will recognize a female scientist who has made outstanding contributions to the field, both in the laboratory and through mentorship. The selection committee is composed of faculty from both IPN and pharmacology & physiology. The committee also includes two doctoral trainees, one from each program, from both of the programs, in recognition of Gale’s advocacy on behalf of young scientists.

The Office of the President at Georgetown University, The American Epilepsy Society and the Society for Neuroscience are providing funding for the lectureship.

Scharfman, professor of psychiatry, neuroscience and physiology at New York University and the Nathan Kline Institute, is also a leader in the epilepsy field. She has received over $7.5 million in grant funding for her work and has published more than 100 papers. Like Gale, she is also a dedicated mentor, having trained 12 postdoctoral fellows, seven PhD students and over 25 high school interns, many of whom placed in the Intel Science Talent Search.

Before diving into her lecture, “Diverse roles of neurogenesis in the adult brain and in disease,” Scharfman reflected on Gale’s legacy.

“Karen had enormous influence on me and many of the women in science throughout this country and the world,” she said. “I think it’s safe to say that I might be here if not for Karen, but I would not be here as strongly, securely and with as much support.”

Leigh Ann Renzulli
GUMC Communications