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7.29.2014

Pediatric Epilepsy Research Foundation Establishes New Scholarships

Thanks to a generous $500,000 gift from the Pediatric Epilepsy Research Foundation (PERF), new financial incentives will soon be in place in perpetuity for students at the Miller School of Medicine. The not-for-profit foundation, which is led by Miller School alumnus Roy Elterman, M.D. ’74, is establishing two scholarships to assist students for generations to come.

The Dr. Roy D. and Ragen S. Elterman Endowed Medical Scholarship Fund will be a merit-based scholarship, while the Morton and Alma Elterman Endowed Medical Scholarship Fund, named for Elterman’s parents, will be a financial need-based award. PERF’s intention is to add $1 million to the endowment by May 2016.

As a medical student in the early 1970s, Elterman remembers the gratitude he felt when he was honored with a merit-based scholarship. More than 40 years later, he is paying the favor forward by creating new scholarships.

“I have always been appreciative of the scholarship that I received and it seemed appropriate to return the favor,” said Elterman, the president of PERF and a Dallas-based pediatric neurologist who retired recently after more than 30 years in private practice.

Elterman and Donald Shields, M.D., Emeritus Professor of Neurology and Pediatrics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California Los Angeles, established PERF in 2004 to support research in pediatric epilepsy and other pediatric neurologic conditions, and to enhance the quality of life of children battling neurologic disorders. The foundation funded its first research grant in 2010.

Funding for PERF came about as a result of a study Elterman and Shields initiated 10 years earlier, in which they looked at the effects of the drug vigabatrin for children with an unusual type of epilepsy called infantile spasms. A national collaborative group, the Vigabatrin Infantile Spasms Study Group (VISSG), was set up to give child neurologists access to vigabatrin for patients with infantile spasms until it was approved by the FDA. The company that owned the drug decided not to bring it to market. But in the early 2000s, Ovation Pharmaceuticals purchased the U.S. rights for vigabatrin, and as part of its push for FDA approval, agreed to pay royalties for the data compiled in the VISSG study. As part of the agreement, the royalty stream was used to fund a foundation focused on research in pediatric neurology and pediatric epilepsy.

The patent on the medication expires in April 2017, meaning PERF may close, possibly by 2019-2020. Elterman says remaining funds will be distributed to various organizations, in addition to the Miller School. Shields, who is the PERF vice president, plans to fund a chair in pediatric neurology at his alma mater, the University of Utah School of Medicine. The Child Neurology Foundation and the Child Neurology Society will also benefit.

“The money became available and we wanted to do good things with it,” said Elterman.

Alex J. Mechaber, M.D., associate professor of medicine, Senior Associate Dean for Undergraduate Medical Education, and Co-Director, Clinical Skills Program & Competency Assessment at the Miller School, says the scholarships will benefit students and the School.

“We are extremely grateful to alumni like Dr. Elterman,” said Mechaber. “This gift will allow the Miller School to provide more competitive financial packages to accepted students and continue to attract the best and brightest. This is all part of a long-term strategic plan to expand scholarship dollars to students based on academic merit, diversity, and need.”

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