Bringing CNS Members Together to Make Children’s Lives Better


Harry T. Chugani

Profile written by Robert S. Rust, MD, MA

Harry T. Chugani, MD

Harry Chugani was born and raised in Hong Kong, where he graduated from St. Joseph’s College High School in 1968. In 1972 he graduated magna cum laude from La Salle College in Philadelphia. He attended Georgetown University School of Medicine, graduating in 1976. He was first attracted to neuroscience while in medical school, with particular interest in clinical neurology. Two individuals were particularly important in cultivating his interest in both scientific and clinical aspects of neurology: Dr. Charles Kennedy, at Georgetown, one of the most influential founders of modem child neurology, played a critical role in arousing Dr. Chugani’s interest in clinical neurology and the importance of establishing a scientific basis for diagnosis and practice. Whether the fact that both Dr. Kennedy and the future Dr. Chugani were (and remain) devoted pianists played a role in that influence is an interesting question. It is clear that Kennedy was also a kindred spirit with regard to exciting and supervising Dr. Chugani’s development as a bench neuroscientist.

The second formative influence was the late Louis Sokoloff, of the National Institutes of Health. Sokoloff’s dissatisfaction with the Freudian principles of basing diagnosis and treatment upon presumptions concerning historical features disclosed at the bedside led him to find a place at the cerebral metabolic section of the Neurochemistry Division of the NIH. There, he worked al establishing a method that might trace the state of brain chemical activity in order to discover functional disturbances of brain energy metabolism that might then account for psychiatric and, what he regarded as, other neurological diseases. Dr. Chugani’s years of medical school and neurology training in Georgetown corresponded exactly with the years during which he succeeded in proving that it was possible to monitor regional cerebral function as represented in cerebral energy metabolism.

Dr. Chugani’s training in PET scanning was provided by John Mazzioti. Other individuals who played a role in equipping Dr. Chugani with the skills required to serve the needs of his wide-ranging goals as physiologist and physician were epileptologists, Tom Babb and Robert Ackerman. Important as other individuals proved to be in Dr. Chugani’s professional career and personal life, none have played a more formative and rewarding role than that played by his wife, the gifted neuropharmacologist and neurochemist, Diane Chugani. During the course of his career to date, Harry Chugani has published 491 original papers (and two books), while Diane Chugani has published 241 original papers; many, but not all, of the papers authored by each are shared contributions. Foremost of all of their many shared accomplishments is their conscientious nurturance of two remarkable children.

Dr. Chugani’s initial academic appointment carried him to UCLA for 12 years, where he received additional training in Nuclear Medicine. This brought him into contact with Michel Philippart, who shared with Dr. Chugani his breadth of knowledge concerning metabolic and degenerative diseases of the central nervous system. In 1993, the Chugani’s moved to the Children’s Hospital of Michigan/Wayne Stale University in Detroit where, in addition to the remarkable series of scientific investigations he and his wife undertook, he remained an active practitioner and teacher of child neurology. There is insufficient space in this “brief career summary” to recount the almost countless services that Harry Chugani has provided to a large number of international societies and journals as officer, organizer, and reviewer, not to mention his abundant contributions of superb review papers. Nor is there space for the long list of honorary lectures delivered and additional honors and awards received, or the many occasions on which Harry Chugani has been called upon to offer wise counsel concerning neurological healthcare needs to healthcare institutes, policy boards, and state and federal government agencies.

Insofar as the scientific aspects of the not infrequently shared scientific undertakings of the Chugani’s are concerned, it is worth noting that while the overwhelming majority of all scientific papers are never cited, 24 of the Chugani papers have been cited 50-100 times. These papers concern a wide variety of brain lesions, particularly those causing various forms of epilepsy, metabolic diseases, migraine, language, autism, and normal aspects of brain metabolic maturation. Fifteen have been cited 100-400 times, concerning particularly various forms of epilepsy at various developmental ages, various surgical approaches to alleviation of epilepsy, imaging of surgical lesions, maturational and regional changes in energy metabolism, autism and other developmental disturbances. The most highly cited paper (920 citations!) concerns distillation of the complex principles of the study of functional brain development that may be undertaken with FOG PET methods. Overall , the 541 papers that Harry Chugani has co-authored, chiefly as the senior author, have been cited (as of the date of this career summary) 10,845 times!

More could be said about the many quiet ways in which Dr. Chugani has sought to advise and support members of our profession at various stages in their careers. This natural obligation of professors and teachers at their own institutions that are undertaken by all of us are not infrequently performed by Harry Chugani in other settings, whether they be kind words about a presentation by a junior member wholly unknown to him – perhaps especially on occasions when that presentation may not have gone as well as one might wish – or at the conclusion of meetings that may in some fashion have become overheated. His instincts are unfailingly constructive. The remarkable success that his medical and graduate students have enjoyed under his guidance exemplifies his capacity to engender success for others. He has demonstrated his constructiveness in his encouragement and support of efforts of the International Child Neurology Association (ICNA) to provide educational support to the countries of the rest of the world that lack resources or programs for health care or are in need of educational outreach. This was particularly evident during his recently concluded term as ICNA President. He is a person who finds opportunities for supportive mentorship wherever he goes – not least in his role as a gentle mentor to politicians regarding healthcare needs. The remarkable manner in which this quiet individual has made such a difference in our profession is no doubt the most fitting tribute to his two original mentors who inspired Harry Chugani to become a neuroscientist and neurologist and whom he has come to closely resemble professionally and personally: Charles Kennedy and Louis Sokoloff.