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William Davis “Bill”Gaillard, MD

Profile written by Phillip L. Pearl, MD

photo of William Davis “Bill” 
Gaillard, MD

William Davis “Bill” Gaillard, MD is well known for his innumerable contributions to the pediatric neurology and epilepsy communities. He is a preeminent leader in the clinical investigation of language plasticity during development and in the epilepsy population, as well other populations of neurodevelopmental disabilities including autism and pediatric stroke.

Dr. Gaillard graduated from Yale College Magna Cum Laude with a degree in History. He continued at Yale University for medical school. There, he won awards for History of Science and Medicine for his work on The Great Plague at Athens as well as for his medical thesis studying single-cell neurophysiology in Aplysia californica. He spent two years as a Pediatrics resident at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and completed Pediatric Neurology fellowship at Johns Hopkins. After Pediatric Neurology training, he pursued a fellowship at the Clinical Epilepsy Branch at NINDS in epilepsy, clinical neurophysiology, and neuroimaging, under the mentorship of Drs. William H. Theodore, and Susumu Sato, among others. There, in collaboration with Dr. Lucie Hertz-Pannier and others, he conducted the first functional (fMRI) studies of cognitive and language development in children (e.g., Gaillard et al, Functional anatomy of cognitive development: fMRI of verbal fluency in children and adults, Neurology 2000).

He was quickly recruited to the faculty at George Washington University and Children’s National Medical Center in 1993. Because of his experiences at Johns Hopkins and NINDS, he developed a longstanding interest in brain development, epilepsy, and the effects of pathologic processes, especially epilepsy, on the developing brain. Much of his work, using various neuroimaging tools and detailed neurocognitive assessments, performed in collaboration with superb neuroimagers and neuropsychologists, has centered on the impact of epilepsy on brain structure, function, and connectivity with an emphasis on cognitive systems, especially language as well as in other developmental disorders and stroke. His initial publications were focused on the use of PET for localization of epileptic foci in an era when FDG PET was just emerging as an important evaluative tool for epilepsy surgery candidacy (Theodore, Gaillard, et al, PET Measurement of CBF and Temporal Lobectomy, Ann Neurol 1994; Gaillard et al, FDG-PET and Volumetric MRI in the Evaluation of Patients with Partial Epilepsy, Neurology 1995; Gaillard et al, Interictal Metabolism and Blood Flow are Uncoupled in Temporal Lobe Cortex of Patients with Complex Partial Epilepsy, Neurology 1995; among others).

Over the next decade, his work segued into a progression of innovative and subsequently landmark studies on the use of functional MRI to map language in children (following work using O-15 Water PET in adults). Exemplars include: Gaillard et al, Language dominance in partial epilepsy patients identified with an fMRI reading task, Neurology 2002; Gaillard et al: Atypical language in lesional and nonlesional complex partial epilepsy, Neurology 2007; Berl et al (Gaillard – senior author): Characterization of atypical language activation patterns in focal epilepsy, Ann Neurol 2014; Berl et al (Gaillard – senior author): Vulnerability of the ventral language network in children with focal epilepsy. Brain 2014 Croft et al (Gaillard – senior author). These represent an elegant series of papers demonstrating reorganization of cortical language representation in children with epilepsy, including elucidation that early seizure onset and atypical handedness are determinants of language reorganization, and differences in activation between dorsal and ventral language networks.

He has published over 260 original articles and over 75 chapters and reviews. Further examples of the breath of his scholarship include his senior authorship on multiple publications including: identification of region-specific developmental trajectories in activation of the language network (Human Brain Map, 2012); fMRI pattern separation of language networks in pediatric epilepsy (Human Brain Map, 2012); sub-patterns of language re-organization in pediatric localization related epilepsy (Human Brain Map, 2011); functional connectivity of the inferior frontal cortex in children with autism spectrum disorder (Cereb Cortex, 2009); limitations in language plasticity of language re-organization after location-related epilepsy (Brain, 2009; and the use of fMRI to identify regional specializations of neural network in reading for young children (Neurology, 2003).

Extension of this work has also led to seminal findings in typical and atypical language development, from the demonstration of brain hyperconnectivity in autism (Supekar et al: Brain hyperconnectivity in children with autism and its links to social deficits, Cell Rep 2013) to the development of language lateralization with age (Olulade et al: The neural basis of language development: Changes in lateralization over age, Proc Natl Acad Sci 2020). This 2020 paper makes the seminal observation of right hemisphere homolog activation in young children, ages 4 through 6 years, with an age-related decrease in language activation only in the right hemisphere homolog of Broca’s area. This has major implications for early right hemisphere language activation as a developmental mechanism for recovery following early left hemispheric injury.

Dr. Gaillard has pioneered this work at the Children’s National Hospital in Washington D.C., where he has been on staff since 1993. He is presently both Chief of the Division Neurology and the Division of Epilepsy and Neurophysiology at Children’s National. In addition to leading these two large divisions, he is also co-Director of the DC Intellectual Developmental Disability Research Center (IDDRC) which has been continuously funded since 2001 and is funded through 2025. Dr. Gaillard has been Associate Director of the IDDRC since 2011. He has also served as Director of its neuroimaging core.

For his work to unlock the mysteries of brain development, brain connectivity, and the impact of epilepsy on language development he has received multiple peer-reviewed grants. Dr. Gaillard has received many honors for his clinical research, and he has been visiting professor at leading institutions across the world including Harvard, Hospital for Sick Children (Toronto), University College of London, Johns Hopkins, Washington University (St. Louis), and Cleveland Clinic. He has served on multiple national committees, has been a member of the Research Committee of the Child Neurology Society, is a member of the Steering Committee of the Child Neurology Career Development Program (since 2016), and has recently completed his term as President of the American Epilepsy Society (AES) after serving as first Vice-President and second Vice-President, and Treasurer. He is also a member of the International League Against Epilepsy (ILAE) North America Epilepsy commission and has served as chair of the ILAE Diagnostic Commission and chair of the Pediatric Epilepsy Task Force.

Over the last 25+ years, Bill has mentored legions of child neurologists, psychologists, and neuropsychologists, many of whom are pursuing independent academic careers in child neurology and behavioral/cognitive sciences. His postdoctoral students have performed research on functional language network in children with epilepsy (Drs. Madison Berl, and Leigh Septa, among others). His child neurology fellow trainees have continued their research into childhood developmental disabilities at leading institutions, including NIH (Drs. Marjory Garvey and Maria Acosta) and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (Dr. Adeline Vanderver), as well as becoming independent clinical / translational research investigators at Children’s National (Drs. Madison Berl, Andrea Gropman, Leigh Sepeta, John Schreiber, among others).

Sporting his trademark bowties, Bill has a signature sense of humor that delights and disarms any situation. He is well known for the salutation “Good Morning” any time of day, evening, or night, with the disclaimer that it’s morning in… (name an esoteric place in the other hemisphere). His trademark laugh is immediately recognizable to members of the CNS and AES communities. His wife, Adelaide “Sherri” Robb, M.D., is an accomplished Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, and Chief of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health at Children’s National. Their son, Jonathan, is a pediatric neurology resident at the University of Michigan who will then enter an epilepsy fellowship, and their daughter, Schuyler, is 4th year medical student at Georgetown University School of Medicine.

In summary, the emphasis of Dr. Gaillard’s investigative focus during his outstanding career in child neurology has been the discovery of altered cortical language representation in early onset epilepsy, with applications to autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders as well as to the ontogeny of language development in the human brain. It is for this remarkable body of work that he is being awarded the Martha Bridge Denckla Award.