Dr. Daniel B. Drachman, Neuromuscular Disease Expert and Founder of Johns Hopkins Department of Neurology, Dies

Dr. Daniel B. Drachman, Neuromuscular Disease Expert and Founder of Johns Hopkins Department of Neurology, Dies

Dr. Daniel B. Drachman, one of the world’s leading authorities on neuromuscular diseases and founder of the Department of Neurology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, who also helped world-renowned pianist Leon Fleisher regain the use of his right hand and to return to the concert stage, died of a heart attack and infection on October 24 at the hospital where he worked for more than five decades.

The longtime Stevenson resident was 90 years old.

“Dr. Drachman was a leading authority on myasthenia gravis and other neuromuscular diseases,” according to a Johns Hopkins School of Medicine profile announcing his death.

“His four decades of discoveries about myasthenia gravis, which he determined to be an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system attacks nerve receptors in muscles, transformed it from an often fatal disease into a highly treatable. The research he began on botulinum toxin in the 1970s also led to the development of Botox as a clinical treatment for neuromuscular diseases.

Dr. Justin C. McArthur, Professor of Neurology and Head of the Department of Neurology at Johns Hopkins, said, “Dan was such a fascinating person.

“He was a physician-researcher who provided the highest clinical care, but at the same time he was doing cutting-edge research that became therapy. He has also mentored and trained over 100 Service Deans and Department Heads worldwide. »

Dr McArthur added: “His patients loved him and he spent hours listening to them. He was an old-fashioned avuncular doc who listened and didn’t pay attention to the clock or just sat there typing on the computer.

Dr. Daniel Bruce Drachman was the son of Julian Drachman, head of the high school’s English department, and Emily Deitchman Drachman, who taught Hebrew. His paternal grandfather, Bernard Drachman, was founding dean of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York.

Dr. Drachman was born in Brooklyn, New York, as an identical twin. His brother, David Alexander Drachman, became a pioneering Alzheimer’s disease researcher and the founding chair of the Department of Neurology at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

file photo from 1976. Dr. Daniel Drachman's research focused on the origin of neuromuscular disorders and the treatment of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

Raised in the Manhattan Beach neighborhood of Brooklyn, the brothers, who were over 6 feet tall, graduated from Abraham Lincoln High School in Manhattan Beach. They graduated in 1952 from Columbia College and in 1956 from what was then the New York University College of Medicine, now the New York School of Medicine.

They have completed internships at Beth Israel Hospital in Boston and residencies in neurology and neuropathology at the Harvard Neurological Unit of Boston City Hospital, and have been researchers at the National Institutes of Health.

“They were exceptionally close and created a language that only they could understand, and they spoke several times a day about their neurological patients,” Dr. McArthur recalled. “They were kindred spirits as well as brothers.”

When his brother died in 2016, Dr. Drachman told the Boston Globe, “Having someone so close who is both a competitor and a supportive best friend is probably the best way to get things done. .

“Throughout our lives, if one or the other had a difficult case to discuss, who would we call? The other, of course. We spoke every day, twice a day.

From 1960 to 1963, Dr. Drachman worked in research at the NIH when he joined the faculty of Tufts University School of Medicine as an assistant professor of neurology.

In 1969 he joined the newly created department at Hopkins as an assistant professor of neurology and was the founding director of the department’s neuromuscular program. He was promoted to professor in 1974, and six years later was appointed professor of neuroscience.

Dr. Drachman’s research has focused on the origin of neuromuscular disorders and the treatment of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, and autoimmune neuromuscular disorders.

In 1987, his work made national headlines when his study found that patients with muscular dystrophy could delay wheelchair use by two years by using prednisone. He led a 2012 study of a gene therapy that stopped the rodent equivalent of myasthenia gravis by focusing on the disease’s destructive immune response.

To bring attention to the need for ALS research, Dr. Drachman and his wife, Jephta Piatigorsky, whom he married in 1960, embarked on a three-month transcontinental bicycle trip in 1990 that took them driven 4,605 ​​miles from their home at Stevenson in Seattle.

Dr. Drachman helped Baltimore concert pianist Leon Fleisher regain the use of his right hand. His contribution became part of a 2006 documentary short, “Two Hands: The Leon Fleisher Story” directed by Nathaniel Kahn.

The pianist was preparing for a concert tour in 1964 when he discovered he “couldn’t use the fourth and fifth fingers of his right hand”, The Sun reported in a 2007 review of the film.

A decades-long struggle began for Mr. Fleisher, who was forced to learn repertoire with his left hand, until Dr. Drachman diagnosed the pianist’s condition in 1990 as focal dystonia, which did not was not a well-known condition at the time, and began treating it with targeted doses of Botox, which was also unprecedented.

“In the case of focal dystonia like Leon’s,” Dr. Drachman explained in the 2007 Sun article, “there is at least some evidence that it could be learned.”

He added: “Leon was very brave and persistent, and those two things played a tremendous role in his comeback. Even with the use of Botox, we are able to work around dystonia. But I think people who do the kind of effort that Leon has made is actually reprogramming their brains to some degree.

In 2004, Mr. Fleisher was able to return to the concert stage and to two-handed repertoire.

Even though Dr. Drachman had closed his lab a few years ago, he was still working at Hopkins seeing patients and lecturing until he suffered a heart attack in September, family members said.

In his private life, Dr. Drachman was an accomplished clarinetist who enjoyed playing chamber music with his father-in-law, Gregor Piatigorsky, a noted Russian cellist, who owned two Stradivarius cellos.

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“Chamber music was very important to him,” said a son, Jonathan G. Drachman, of Seattle. “He liked to play chamber music at New Year’s parties.”

He was also an expert fly fisherman who shared his passion for fishing with his brother, and together they enjoyed traveling throughout Wyoming, Alaska and Canada to practice the sport.

He was also an avid reader who had a “wide range of interests ranging from the circus and many other things”, his son said.

Dr. Drachman was a member of Congregation Beth El.

His wife, an accomplished sculptor and former chair of the Shriver Hall concert series, died in 2019.

A service was held on October 27 at Sol Levinson & Bros. in Pikesville.

In addition to his son, he is survived by two other sons, Evan B. Drachman of Lutherville and Eric E. Drachman of Venice, California; and five grandchildren.

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