It is proving exceptionally hard for his colleagues and his patients to say good-by to Dr. Michael Pranzatelli who left us in October of 2018. He valiantly and quietly fought cancer while continuing his dedicated work and even publishing his last paper two months before his death. Michael was a world authority on neuro-immunology and pediatric movement disorders, particularly opsoclonus -myoclonus syndrome (OMS), a paraneoplastic syndrome which was his major research focus. He developed OMS guidelines on diagnosis and treatment for the rest of us to follow. He authored 116 original peer reviewed publications. In 2018 whilst fighting cancer he published 7 articles on the diagnosis and treatment of OMS. He was the first recipient, in 1983, of the prestigious Young Investigator Award from the Child Neurology Society. He was a sought-after speaker at many national and international venues including the Presidential Symposium on Neuroinflammation at the 40th Annual Child Neurology Society Meeting in Savanna in 2011, the International Child Neurology Congress (ICNC) in Brazil in 2014, and a Focus Symposium coordinator and lecturer (Relapse Across the Spectrum of Pediatric Neuroinflammatory Disorders)at the ICNC in Amsterdam in 2016.
While a successful lecturer, Michael was a quiet shy man with a wonderful dry sense of humor. He was born in Sommerville, New Jersey, grew up in Pittsburgh, PA graduating as valedictorian from North Hills High School. After undergraduate study at Duquesne University he obtained his M.D. from Pennsylvania State University. His Pediatric residency at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland was followed by training in Child Neurology at the University of Colorado Denver under the guidance of David Stumpf. His research interest was kindled by his newborn patients with intraventricular hemorrhage. He created an animal model and studied the metabolic consequences, and potential treatments, of blood in the ventricles. Here, he also encountered his first patient with OMS and lamented the shotgun approach to treatment at that time. Inspired, he pursued a PHS funded post-doctoral fellowship at the Pediatric B F Stolinsky Laboratory in Denver and then a 3‑year neuropharmacology research fellowship at the University of Southern California with Dr. Robert Snodgrass. In 1985 he joined the faculty as an assistant professor at The College of Physicians and Surgeons Columbia University and in 1995 was appointed Associate Professor of Pediatrics, Pharmacology and Neurosciences at The George Washington University. From 1999 to 2014 he balanced a productive research career with an active pediatric neurology practice as Professor at the Southern University School of Medicine.
An important part of Michael’s legacy is his expertise as a teacher. He trained 21 students in his laboratory along with the many residents and medical students who had the privilege of working with him over the years. He was an important teacher for his peers sharing his insight into the diagnosis, mechanisms and treatments for OMS through many lectures and publications. He was pivotal in bringing this rare condition to the attention of the National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD) and the NIH.
Few in the medical field were aware that Michael himself was an accomplished, award winning artist in the visual and literary arts (visual arts: oils, watercolor, oil pastels, charcoal, acrylic, mosaic tiles; music: composer, literary: poetry, short stories, and a creative non-fiction book). In 2017 he published 3 poems in SCRxIPT, The Literary and Arts Magazine for the University of Central Florida College of Medicine. These poems give us particular insight into his empathy and humanity.
Michael’s research benefitted greatly by the help of his wife and soul mate Elizabeth Tate. Liz and Mike first met in Denver, CO when he was on the adult neurology service and she was a SICU nurse. They worked together in research, publishing together for 26 years. She was the nurse practitioner who was the major contact for families with OMS and collaborator who helped establish and manage The National Pediatric Myoclonus Center. In 2001 they launched an informational website http://www.omsusa.org/ . These important resources produced several publications in 2018, including a landmark paper discussing 356 US cases of OMS.
Michael Pranzatelli is greatly missed by friends and colleagues, the field of neuroimmunology and most importantly by the families suffering from OMS. Our Pediatric Neurology community has lost a great man.
- Pranzatelli MR, Stumpf DA, The metabolic consequences of experimental intraventricular hemorrhage. Neurology 1985; 35:1299-303
- Pranzatelli MR, Hardly my intention. The Script UCF College of Medicine 2017-2018; Vol IV p.22
- Pranzatelli MR, Tate ED, McGee NR. Multifactorial analysis of opsoclonus-myoclonus syndrome etiology (“Tumor” vs. “No tumor”) in a cohort of 356 US children. Pediatr Blood Cancer. 2018;65:e27097. https://doi.org/10.1002/pbc.27097