Stroke care specialist joins Neurology faculty

By Jeff Carlton

As a trailblazer in improving the system of care for stroke patients, Dr. Mark J. Alberts, UT Southwestern Medical Center’s newest stroke specialist, long has seen the parallels between so-called brain attacks and trauma.

Both happen suddenly, and often without warning. Both require multidisciplinary care teams. And both are time-sensitive crises requiring swift interventions to improve outcomes.

Dr. Mark J. Alberts

Hometown: New Bedford, Mass.
Background: As a medical student at Tufts University, Dr. Alberts trained under renowned neurologist and stroke expert Dr. Michael S. Pessin. The American Academy of Neurology gives out an award annually to emerging stroke researchers in honor of the late Dr. Pessin, whom Dr. Alberts called “a great role model for what a vascular neurologist can do and should do.”

Those insights led to an influential article in 2000 in the Journal of the American Medical Association offering recommendations for the establishment of Primary Stroke Centers, which are hospitals that include acute stroke teams, stroke units, written care protocols, an integrated emergency response system, rapid laboratory testing, and the capability to administer and interpret CT scans around the clock. The article, written by members of the multi-entity Brain Attack Coalition with Dr. Alberts as lead author, helped revolutionize how paramedics, nurses, and doctors respond to strokes.

“We had to change the whole paradigm for stroke. We had to move people from being reactive to stroke to proactive about stroke,” said Dr. Alberts, Professor of Neurology and Neurotherapeutics, who joined UT Southwestern in December. “Now it is routine throughout the country, if not the world, that ambulances are going to take somebody with a suspected stroke to the nearest stroke center.

“Professionally, the work that we have done with the Brain Attack Coalition, in terms of Primary and Comprehensive Stroke Centers, has been the most gratifying of my career. We have affected stroke care on a daily basis for millions of people throughout the world.”

Today, there are more than 1,000 Primary Stroke Centers, including St. Paul University Hospital, certified by The Joint Commission. There are just a handful of certified Comprehensive Stroke Centers, a new designation established in September 2012.

“Comprehensive stroke systems really are designed to take care of the sickest, most complex stroke patients – the large ischemic strokes, patients who need neurosurgical care, patients with multisystem diseases, patients who need neuroscience ICUs,” Dr. Alberts explained. 

Dr. Alberts, also Vice Chair of Clinical Affairs in the Department of Neurology and Neurotherapeutics, said seeking comprehensive certification at UT Southwestern is a priority. He also said he plans to focus on opportunities for translational research and augmenting the Medical Center’s multidisciplinary culture.

“We really see this as a service to the community,” said Dr. Alberts, who is a Fellow of the American Heart Association. 

Dr. Alberts formerly worked at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, where he was a Professor of Neurology and Director of the Stroke Program at Northwestern Memorial Hospital from 2001 to 2012.

Under his leadership at Northwestern, the program grew from one faculty member to five. He helped found its stroke center, which went on to receive primary certification from The Joint Commission. The hospital, which didn’t have a stroke unit when Dr. Alberts started, had a 10-bed unit when he left. The university also went from conducting just a few stroke research studies when he arrived to having a dozen active studies heading into 2013.

Dr. Alberts is the second high-profile recent hire from Northwestern. The first, Dr. Hunt Batjer, Chair of Neurological Surgery, joined UTSW last year. In Chicago, Dr. Batjer once performed successful brain surgery on Dr. Alberts’ mother.

“Dr. Alberts is an outstanding physician, educator, and researcher, and we are fortunate to have recruited him to UT Southwestern,” said Dr. Mark Goldberg, Chair of Neurology and Neurotherapeutics and Director of the Beatrice Menne Haggerty Center for Research on Brain Injury and Repair in Strokes.

After considering coming to UT Southwestern a couple of years ago, Dr. Alberts made the move late last year.

“I was looking for opportunities for intellectual and career growth,” Dr. Alberts said. “And UT Southwestern offers those opportunities. It’s the right move at the right time, for the right reasons.”

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Dr. Batjer holds the Lois C.A. and Darwin E. Smith Distinguished Chair in Neurological Surgery.

Dr. Goldberg holds the Linda and Mitch Hart Distinguished Chair in Neurology.

 

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