This year’s Hower Award recipient is Jonathan Mink, MD, PhD. Dr. Mink is the Frederick A. Horner Distinguished Professor in Pediatric Neurology and Division Chief of Child Neurology at the University of Rochester in Rochester, NY. He served as the Child Neurology Society President from 2017-2019. His contributions to the field of Child Neurology are innumerable and include advancements in neuroscience, international leadership and dedication to the development and mentorship of trainees. Dr. Mink clearly embodies the accomplishments and ideals of the Hower Award.
Dr. Mink was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His first exposure to neurophysiology was accompanying his father to labs while his father completed his post-doctoral fellowship under James Olds, PhD from 1965-1957. For his undergraduate training, Dr. Mink attended Wesleyan University in Connecticut. During undergraduate training, he became interested in the brain mechanisms of motivation. He later obtained his Master’s degree in Psychology, studying with David Adams and Harry Sinnamon.
In 1981, Dr. Mink matriculated at the MD/PhD program at Washington University in St. Louis. He found an outstanding PhD advisor in Dr. W. Thomas Thach, whose work focused on the role of the cerebellum in motor control. Dr. Mink applied Dr. Thach’s approach to the study of cerebellar function to his study of the basal ganglia. Mink’s PhD research formed the foundation for the “Mink Model” of the basal ganglia function, delineating the specific physiology of selection and inhibition of motor programs. His research in the physiology and pathophysiology of basal ganglia networks created the framework for a greater understanding of the role of the basal ganglia in clinical movement disorders. His mentorship from Dr. Thach was foundational to his development as a scientist, educator, and future mentor. Dr. Thach instilled in Dr. Mink a commitment to scientific rigor and emphasized the importance of balance in life.
Dr. Mink’s early training initially led him to consider a career in Adult Neurology, but his career trajectory changed during his second year of medical school. During one particularly memorable class, Dr. Philip Dodge demonstrated a nuanced neurological examination of Dr. Scott Pomeroy’s three children through play. That day, Jon realized that he could blend his interest in the neuroscience and his love for children through a career in Child Neurology. This class was so inspiring that Drs. Bradley Schlaggar and Howard Goodkin, who were in the audience that day, also became Child Neurologists. Dr. Mink later joined the Child Neurology residency program at Washington University, where he continued to be inspired by Dr. Dodge’s kindness and great skill with both children and parents.
Following residency, Dr. Mink completed a Movement Disorders fellowship with Dr. Joel Perlmutter, a neuroimaging researcher and adult movement disorders specialist at Washington University. At that time, dedicated pediatric movement disorders fellowships were uncommon, and Dr. Perlmutter fostered Dr. Mink’s ability to combine his expertise in basal ganglia physiology with his growing clinical expertise in pediatric movement disorders. Jon later joined the faculty at Washington University, where he started the functional surgery program in movement disorders.
In 2001, Dr. Robert Griggs recruited Dr. Mink to become the chief of the Child Neurology Division at the University of Rochester. Under his leadership as chief, he re-established the Child Neurology residency program and expanded the division to 15+ full-time faculty. By that time, Dr. Mink emerged as an internationally recognized leader in movement disorders, leading the development of the first guidelines for use of Deep Brain Stimulation in treating adults with treatment-resistant Tourette syndrome. Dr. Mink started one of the few formal Pediatric Movement Disorders fellowship-training programs, now with more than 10 program graduates, including three international graduates. He shared his experience and expertise as a member of the national Taskforce on Childhood Motor Disorders and as co-author of the Pediatric Movement Disorders textbook, Movement Disorders in Childhood. In 2015, Dr. Mink was fittingly named the first recipient of the Dr. Oliver Sacks Award for Excellence in Tourette Syndrome from the Tourette Association of America.
Dr. Mink’s research career began in basic science and neurophysiology. However, his research interests shifted to clinical research after colleagues sparked an interest in Batten diseases (Neuronal Ceroid Lipofuscinoses or NCLs). Dr. Frederick Marshall, an adult neurologist who specialized in movement disorders and dementia, and Dr. David Pearce, a biochemist, were studying Batten diseases at the University of Rochester. With Dr. Mink’s expertise in movement disorders, they invited him to attend a family conference hosted by the Batten Disease Support and Research Association in 2002. This experience was transformative, and Dr. Mink has been a leader in natural history research in Batten diseases ever since. His leadership resulted in the development of the first validated clinical rating scale for the NCLs, the Unified Batten Disease Rating Scale and the designation of the University of Rochester as a Batten Center of Excellence. For his impact in Batten disease research, he received the prestigious H. Houston Merritt Award in 2019 from the American Academy of Neurology for excellence in clinically relevant research.
Dr. Mink has served as a leader in the fields of Neurology and Child Neurology. He has been an active member of the Child Neurology Society since 1994. Prior to his term as President of the Child Neurology Society, he served as the Councillor for the Northeast from 2007-2009, Chair of the Research Committee from 2005-2010, and Chair of the Scientific Selection and Program Planning Committee from 2013-2015. He has served as a leader in many important national and international organizations, including: Executive Board, International Child Neurology Association; National Advisory Neurological Disorders and Stroke Council; Board of Scientific Counselors, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke; and Pediatric Advisory Committee, Food and Drug Administration.
Dr. Mink most values his role as a mentor to trainees in Child Neurology and Pediatric Movement Disorders. Like his predecessor, Dr. Dodge, Dr. Mink has inspired many medical students with his passion for teaching to pursue careers in Child Neurology. He has trained or influenced the vast majority of Pediatric Movement Disorders specialists practicing in the United States today.
Dr. Mink is the model of leadership, exemplar of outstanding teaching, a highly regarded scholar and a wonderful colleague.