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Dr. Alice Flaherty is a joint associate professor of both neurology and psychiatry at HMS. Her practice is at MGH. Her education was preparation H, in that she did an AB, MD, internship, residency, and fellowship at Harvard. In an attempt at diversity, she did a PhD at MIT, one mile away. In the MGH department of neurology, she is the director of the movement disorders fellowship, co-director of its brain stimulator unit, and has a particular interest in the overlap between mood and movement disorders. Her research focuses on brain systems that control behavioral drives, whether to walk, to communicate, or to create, and how these are influenced by interventions ranging from dopaminergic drugs to phototherapy to deep brain stimulation.
In addition to scientific papers, she is the author of The MGH Handbook of Neurology; The Midnight Disease (a book for general audiences on the biological drive to communicate), and The Luck of the Loch Ness Monster (a children’s book on the biology of picky eating). Each of her books has received national awards and had multiple translations. Two have been dramatized. She has appeared as an expert on many TV documentaries, both nationally and internationally. Her current project on the neurology of illness behaviors, was awarded a fellowship from the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, and was the focus of the 2008 David Rockefeller Winter Institute. She examines the mechanisms by which behavioral responses to illness, such as somatization and stoicism, are both biologically based and alterable by experience. Her interest in empathy and dispassion, which are secondary illness behaviors, made her aware of the extent to which doctors’ gestural communication is biologically based and teachable as well.
E-mail: Alice W. Flaherty, MD, PhD
Research Investigator Profile
Alice Flaherty, MD, PHD
Awards & Recognition
2010 Top Doctors, US News and World Report
2009 Top Doctors, Boston Magazine
2006 87 Big Thinkers, feature, Boston Magazine
1999 Compassionate Caregiver Award, Massachusetts-wide finalist, Schwartz Center
Basal ganglia fMRI in normal and Parkinsonian patients
Dr. Flaherty is the site principle investigator of a multicenter Phase II trial of gene therapy for Parkinson’s disease. The trial’s 6 month results were released in 2011, and marked the first time that gene therapy has been effective in treating human Parkinson’s disease. In sixteen subjects, a virally mediated copy of the gene for glutamic acid decarboxylase, or GAD, was surgically injected directly into their brain's subthalamic nucleus. The GAD gene boosts production of a neurotransmitter called GABA, which can decrease the overactivity typically seen in Parkinson’s patients’ subthalamic nuclei. Compared with the control subjects, who did not get the gene, the sixteen subjects improved significantly in an overall measure of disease severity. Tremor, stiffness, and incoordination typically decreased. Further follow-up measurements are currently in progress.
Read descriptions and apply for residency, fellowship, and observership programs at http://www.massgeneral.org/neurology/education/.
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NCBI PubMed publications
Honors & Recognition
2009Texas Bluebonnet Award Master List (Luck of the Loch Ness Monster)
2007100 Titles for Reading and Sharing, New York Public Library (Luck of Loch Ness M.)
2005William Saroyan International Writing Prize, nonfiction short list
2004Best Books of 2004 - San Francisco Chronicle & Washington Post“The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, Writer’s Block and the Creative Brain”
San Francisco Chronicle, Editor’s Pick (The Midnight Disease)
Books, Monographs, Articles, and Presentations in Other Media
2011The Massachusetts General Hospital: Handbook of Neurology / Edition 2 - Publisher: Lippincott Williams & WilkinsAlice W. Flaherty, Natalia S. Rost
2010Uncommon Sense: Synsthesia helps the brain luxuritae in metaphor - Harvard Medical Bulletin
2009From Bipolar Darkness, the Empathy to Be a Doctor - New York Times
2009Special effects: What can the dramatic arts teach doctors about improving their performances? - Harvard Medical Bulletin. 2009;82(2):12-17.
2008Memory Splat Mat - Harvard Medical Bulletin
2007The Luck of the Loch Ness Monster. by Alice Flaherty. Illustrated by S. Magoon; Houghton Mifflin, Boston
The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, Writer’s Block, and the Creative Brain. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin
Presentations to Non-Medical Scholarly and General Audiences
2010Second Opinion: Bipolar Disorder TV interview and panel- WXXI Public Broadcasting (PBS network series)
2007My Brilliant Brain: Savant Syndromes - National Geographic Channel-UK (TV interview)
2004The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, Writer’s Block, and the Creative Brain - The Diane Rehm Show (Radio interview)National Public Radio, WAMU
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