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Dr. Alice Flaherty is a joint associate professor of both neurology and psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Her practice is at Massachusetts General Hospital.
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 Mass General 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 Massachusetts General Hospital 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.
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 about and apply for residency, fellowship and observership programs in neurology.
Publications & Awards
For a complete list of articles, check the NCBI PubMed publications list.
Shields DC, Flaherty AW, Eskandar EN, Williams ZM. Ventral intermediate thalamic stimulation for monoclonal gammopathy-associated tremor: case report. Neurosurgery. 2011 May; 68(5):E1464-7.
Lewitt PA, Rezai AR, Leehey MA, Ojemann SG, Flaherty AW, Eskandar EN, Kostyk SK, Thomas K, Sarkar A, Siddiqui MS, Tatter SB, Schwalb JM, Poston KL, Henderson JM, Kurlan RM, Richard IH, Van Meter L, Sapan CV, During MJ, Kaplitt MG, Feigin A. AAV2-GAD gene therapy for advanced Parkinson's disease: a double-blind, sham-surgery controlled, randomised trial. Lancet Neurol. 2011 Apr; 10(4):309-19.
Flaherty AW. Brain illness and creativity: mechanisms and treatment risks. Can J Psychiatry. 2011 Mar; 56(3):132-43.
Ducharme S, Flaherty AW, Seiner SJ, Dougherty DD, Morales OG. Temporary interruption of deep brain stimulation for Parkinson's disease during outpatient electroconvulsive therapy for major depression: a novel treatment strategy. J Neuropsychiatry Clin Neurosci. 2011; 23(2):194-7.
Quinn DK, Flaherty AW, Herman JB, Kleinschmidt TL. Over the rainbow: a case of traumatic brain injury. Harv Rev Psychiatry. 2010; 18(1):56-66.
Honors and Recognitions
Texas Bluebonnet Award Master List (Luck of the Loch Ness Monster)
100 Titles for Reading and Sharing, New York Public Library (Luck of Loch Ness M.)
William Saroyan International Writing Prize, nonfiction short list
San Francisco Chronicle, Editor’s Pick (The Midnight Disease)
Books, Monographs, Articles, and Presentations in Other Media
The Massachusetts General Hospital: Handbook of Neurology / Edition 2 - Publisher: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins
Alice W. Flaherty, Natalia S. Rost
Uncommon Sense: Synesthesia helps the brain luxuriate in metaphor Harvard Medical Bulletin
From Bipolar Darkness, the Empathy to Be a Doctor - New York Times
The 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
Second Opinion: Bipolar Disorder TV interview and panel- WXXI Public Broadcasting (PBS network series)
My Brilliant Brain: Savant Syndromes - National Geographic Channel-UK (TV interview)
The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, Writer’s Block, and the Creative Brain - The Diane Rehm Show (Radio interview)
National Public Radio, WAMU