Einstein Mourns the Loss of Pioneering Neurologist Dr. Herbert Vaughan, Jr.
Dr. Herbert G. Vaughan, Jr., professor emeritus in the Saul R. Korey Department of Neurology and the Dominick P. Purpura Department of Neuroscience, died on May 28, 2020, at the age of 90. A beloved faculty member, Dr. Vaughan also served as the second director of Einstein’s Rose F. Kennedy Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center, following its founding director, Dr. Purpura. Dr. Vaughan was recognized as a pioneer in the field of evoked potential and was known as a “translational neuroscientist.”
He was recruited to Einstein by Dr. Saul R. Korey, founding chair of neurology, who saw great promise in the young physician who had studied physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, completed his bachelor’s degree under elite and distinguished neuropsychologists at McGill University, and demonstrated academic brilliance as a member of Cornell University Medical College’s class of 1955. In 1956, he became the first-ever resident in Dr. Korey’s newly established laboratory and division of neurology in the department of medicine at the nascent College of Medicine, which opened its doors the same year Dr. Vaughan graduated from Cornell, and ultimately served as chief resident.
“Herb got in on the ground floor of what would become one of the most influential labs in the field of neurology,” said Solomon “Nico” Moshé, M.D., Ph.D., who trained under Dr. Vaughan as a postdoctoral fellow and is currently professor and vice-chair in the Saul R. Korey Department of Neurology.
“He established the disciplines of cognitive neuroscience and systems biology at the Kennedy Center that served as a centerpiece of an NIH-funded interdisciplinary program in the brain sciences that endured for several decades, and represented a prestigious international training and research resource at Einstein,” said Mark F. Mehler, M. D., the current chair of the Saul R. Korey Department of Neurology, who interacted extensively with Dr. Vaughan during his long tenure.
Building an Exemplary Career
During the next decade, Dr. Vaughan published more than a dozen research articles. (Over his career, he published 68 peer-reviewed papers and 37 books, book chapters, and review articles.) He completed a postdoctoral fellowship in psychology at MIT, where he explored the neuropsychological alterations in patients with brain lesions, and then spent two years as chief of the neurology service at the U.S. Naval Hospital, in Philadelphia, after which he returned to Einstein as a member of its faculty. By this time, the free-standing department of neurology, ultimately named for Dr. Korey, had been established.
The work in Dr. Korey’s lab involved collaborations with experts in a variety interdisciplinary fields including mathematics and physics, affording Einstein unique opportunities to delve into never-before explored fields of biomedical research. Dr. Vaughan’s own research focused on evoked potentials (or evoked responses) during sensory stimulation, which he recorded to study brain function in primates and humans. He was particularly interested in brain function as
it is related to age. His studies in language processing in infants allowed for the development of interventions addressing language-related deficits in premature infants.
“He was a truly translational neuroscientist before the term was introduced,” said Dr. Moshé. “He often applied his basic neurophysiologic data to what he observed in the clinical setting. And he pioneered evoked potential research in babies to address and often anticipate developmental issues that can arise.
His gift at knowing people and his science led to success for others as well; many of his students are renowned within their fields.
“Herb expected the best from himself and from us, too,” said Dr. Moshé. “He was gruff and often did not mince his words, but he also was kind—a gentle person masquerading as a tough scientist. He led the Kennedy Center in its glory years and his legacy will always be with us.”
Although Dr. Vaughan retired in October 1998, he remained in contact with many of his colleagues and took part in a special program held at Einstein in 2003, honoring his mentor on the 50th anniversary of Dr. Korey’s death. In recent years, he suffered a stroke, but even that could not stymie his intellectual curiosity.
Steeped in Science
Shortly after hearing that Dr. Vaughan was recovering in the hospital, Kevin Knuth, Ph.D., a former trainee who is now editor-in-chief of Entropy and associate professor of physics at the University at-Albany (SUNY), paid him a visit. Dr. Knuth recalled, “Herb shared that he was experiencing hemifield neglect, a condition where the brain only acknowledges one side of the body. He asked me to help him to do experiments on himself, having me walk to one side of his body and then the other. Every time I passed his midline, he exclaimed, ‘Oh my God! It’s like you just disappeared.’"
Dr. Knuth added, “He told me that he’d seen patients with hemifield neglect, but never imagined what it would feel like. He was almost elated, which is a pretty good state to be in after having a stroke. It was fascinating to see him process what he was experiencing and inspiring to watch him turn what most would find frightening into something that was revelatory.”
Dr. Vaughan will be remembered for his brilliant intellect, his vision and leadership, and his love of science and of life.
Posted on: Monday, December 28, 2020