The year was 1965. Lyndon Johnson was sworn in for his first full term as president. The Sound of Music hit the big screen. A patent was filed for the first "practical commercial ultrasound machine." And Andrew Engel, M.D., established a neuromuscular disease research laboratory at Mayo Clinic. Fifty years later, much has changed, but Dr. Engel is as dedicated to his research — and his patients — as he was half a century ago.
Dr. Engel’s golden anniversary was recently recognized by The Lancet - Neurology, which notes in a profile piece that the good doctor "has unravelled (Queen's English spelling) the secrets of various neuromuscular disorders, and discovered many others himself." He's done so, The Lancet suggests, because he has “meticulously followed every lead to diagnose a novel disorder, and retains the hunger to look for more.”
Dr. Engel’s work has focused on neuromuscular disorders, including Duchenne muscular dystrophy, myasthenic syndromes and other conditions that cause muscle weakness. His contributions to the field have resulted in continuous funding from the National Institutes of Health for an astonishing 50 consecutive years — currently the longest streak of an NIH grant among Mayo Clinic researchers.
When asked what keeps him going, Dr. Engel tells In the Loop it's a combination of Mayo’s “collegial atmosphere, an open door to research, and helping patients.” That help has included the discovery of more than 10 new muscle and neuromuscular junction disorders, and more importantly, new treatments for those disorders. As Dr. Engel tells The Lancet, after gaining an understanding of “the molecular basis of these conditions, we can correctly treat most of them, restoring patients’ hope and improving life expectancy.”
Dr. Engel has received a number of accolades for his work, including the Lifetime Achievement Award of the World Federation of Neurology, Doctor of the Year from the Myasthenia Gravis Foundation of America, and The Jerry Lewis Research Award from the Muscular Dystrophy Association. In 2003, he was elected to the Institute of Medicine, an honor that “reflects the height of professional achievement and commitment to service.”
But Dr. Engel is “not yet ready to wrap up his career,” though he admits to spending more time these days on his hobbies, including landscape photography and golf. (We suspect he has enough PTO to sneak in at least nine holes every now and again.) When he does retire, he says his hope “is that my colleagues will continue this research for many years to come.”
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