After a decade leading the A. Alfred Taubman Medical Research Institute, Feldman will focus on treatments for ALS

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World-renowned researcher Dr. Eva Feldman is stepping down as director of the University of Michigan’s A. Alfred Taubman Medical Research Institute, an organization that supports research for cures for debilitating and deadly diseases.

Feldman was the founding director of the institute launched by philanthropist and businessman A. Alfred Taubman, who died in 2015 at age 91. Feldman spent the last 10 years at the helm as the institute developed new drugs, surgeries and therapies for diseases such as adult and childhood cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and, Feldman’s research interest, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

“When Alfred and I began the institute 10 years ago together, we had a vision of creating an institute where clinician scientists would take their most novel discoveries from their laboratory and translate that into patient clinical trials,” said Feldman, adding that the team of four has grown to over 200. “We’ve really been able to realize that vision.”

Feldman, 65, said Thursday that she raised the institute from its infancy.

“It’s now time for the next person to take it through its adolescence, because it’s still growing,” she said. “So it just seemed the perfect time to pass the baton to someone to have the next 10 best years of their life the way I just had the 10 best years of my life.”

The institute will select the next director “soon,” Feldman said.

A Russell N. DeJong Professor of Neurology, Feldman will continue to run the ALS clinic at UM and her own laboratory, Program for Neurology Research & Discovery. Her team of 30 scientists have spent years working on human clinical trials that may lead to a treatment for ALS, a neurological disease also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Most ALS patients lose the ability to walk and talk, and death may occur within three to five years of diagnosis.

In 2010, Feldman started the first human clinical trial approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to use stem cells to treat ALS. The FDA recently approved Feldman to move onto the final, nationwide phase of the trial that involves injecting stem cells into the spinal cord of ALS patients. If approved, the drug could be marketed to patients.

Besides focusing on the trial, Feldman said she’ll have more time to do a “deep dive” into why people with diabetes get neurological complications.

She also was elected to the National Academy of Medicine and plans to use her position to help others understand the value of philanthropy.

“Philanthropy can be a game changer — Al Taubman showed us that — and one of my goals is to help other clinician scientists throughout the country understand the process,” she said.

Feldman said she’s “much closer” to a cure for ALS, “but we’re not there yet.” For now, she wants to press the pause button on the disease.

“When the patient comes to me, I want to be able to offer them a therapy so they will stay right where they are the first day I see them,” she said. “I don’t think that stem cells will necessarily make people go back to where they are before they got ill, but if we can stop the disease in its tracks, my patients will be happy and I will be happy.”

Feldman was named a 2011 Detroit News Michiganian of the Year. She’s served as the president of the American Neurological Association, the third woman to hold the position in 130 years, and was named one of “America’s Top Doctors” in 2016.

ssteinberg@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2156

Twitter: @Steph_Steinberg

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