Dr. Alberto Palma was recognized by the American Autonomic Society as the first recipient of the Felicia Axelrod Investigator Award.
The Award, set up in tribute to Dr. Axelrod, recognizes a researcher posed to become a leader in the field of autonomic medicine. Dr. Palma was chosen for his contributions to the field of rare autonomic disorders, and in particular for his work in familial dysautonomia.
Dr. Felicia Axelrod was a pioneer of research in rare diseases and started the Familial Dysautonomia Patient Registry in the 1970s. Today, registries for rare diseases are now common practice and are recommended as ways to help understand orphan diseases and speed up the development of new treatments. Dr. Axelrod’s interest in familial dysautonomia was sparked early in her career. While a medical student at NYU School of Medicine, she began seeing patients with familial dysautonomia and shortly after graduating she established the Dysautonomia Center at New York University. From its humble beginnings, in a single office, she kept meticulous notes on each patient, charting each symptom, each treatment attempt, and every test result for the next 40 years of her career. In the 1990s, she started the first electronic database for patient records, which enable research into the disease to progress at a faster pace than ever before.
When Dr. Alberto Palma joined the Center in 2013, he took advantage of the database and addressed the issues of sudden unexpected death during sleep in patients with familial dysautonomia. The American Autonomic Society selection panel recognized his life-saving work, which has allowed physicians recognize why we should avoid using high-dose fludrocortisone and the importance of using CPAP or BiPAP to help support breathing at night. These recommendations are now part of the new Respiratory Guidelines that were just published that that Dr. Palma spearheaded [link here]. Dr. Palma has also made significant headway in treating rare autonomic neurodegenerative synucleinopathies like multiple system atrophy. In this regard, Dr. Palma was recognized by the National Institutes of Health and selected as Scholar of the Rare Diseases Clinical Research Network.
Dr. Palma’s recognition within the field is a well-deserved honor. Since joining the NYU Dysautonomia Center he has made a real difference in the lives of patients with autonomic disorders. After completing his autonomic disorders fellowship at NYU in 2015, he joined the Faculty as an Attending Physician and assumed the role of Assistant Director of the Dysautonomia Center. “He is an outstanding example of a clinician scientist”, explained Dr. Horacio Kaufmann, “he takes the time to listen to patients, thinks carefully about their problems, and designs research that addresses the critical issues.” Please join us in congratulating Dr. Palma on his important award.