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Faculty Spotlight: Mark Stacy, MD

Monday, April 4, 2016

For Mark Stacy, MD, a day’s work ranges in scope from the institutional level to the personal. One moment he might be helping to oversee the more than 6,000 clinical research projects within the School of Medicine, while another he might be helping a patient with Parkinson’s disease or dystonia find a tailored approach to treatment that best fits his or her needs. In this Faculty Spotlight interview, Stacy talks about these responsibilities, the past and future of Parkinson’s disease, and his time working with Muhammad Ali.

What are your responsibilities within the Department? What does a typical day for you look like?
I am the Director of the Parkinson’s disease and Movement Disorders division, and am in clinic on Monday and Wednesday mornings. I enjoy my time in clinic, because of the informal interactions I share with Burt Scott, Patrick Hickey and Jeff Cooney, and the clinic work with the Movement Disorders Fellow, Ian C. Lee. Like all fellows, Ian has taught me a lot.

I also enjoy seeing patients. I feel validated when I can help them, and inspired by the dignity they display, despite at times, profound barriers to their own mobility.

You’re also Vice Dean for Clinical Research. What does that work involve, and how does it fit into your own research?
As Vice Dean of Clinical Research I am responsible for our 10 Institutional Review Boards, Regulatory Affairs, Conflict of Interest and the Duke Office of Clinical Research. Together with the 19 clinical research units we manage more than 6,000 clinical projects. This small task has consumed most of my own time in research, but I persist, thanks to the great neurology team – and my friend for 26 years, Lisa Gauger!

What’s one thing you wished patients knew about movement disorders?
Like all neurologists, I wish that patients with Neurological conditions knew to seek care in a neurology clinic.

 

How has our understanding of Parkinson’s disease changed since you first started studying the disease?
When I started we were taught to start with dopamine agonists, and to push these drugs to higher doses, before starting levodopa. This approach delayed the development of dyskinesias from levodopa. We now know that dopamine agonists are associated with impulse control disorders, something that may be much more detrimental to a patient and family. Today we are more judicious and balanced in the use of these agents, and are much more likely to send patients to deep brain stimulation (DBS) surgery, so both of these symptoms are much less. And I do admit that the DBS results we see from Duke, thanks to Dr. Hickey and Dr. Cooney, are extraordinary.

How do you think our knowledge and treatment will change in the next decade?
We are rapidly acquiring knowledge about potential treatments to dissolve Lewy Bodies, the alpha-synuclein inclusions, pathognomonic of Parkinson’s disease. I think we may have a vaccine for PD this decade.

 

One of the most famous patients you’ve worked with was Muhammad Ali. How did you two connect, and what was that experience like?
The first time I met Mr. and Mrs. Ali, I asked them what they would like me to do, as the Director of the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Research Center. Muhammad indicated he wanted me to take care of everyone, regardless of ability to pay. I did that – with the money he raised for this purpose. It was a tremendous gift to the patients, me, and most of all, Muhammad Ali. He taught me much about life, and I heard this from him many times: “This is the only time they will get to meet the Heavyweight Champion of the World. I want it to be a good experience.”

What passions or hobbies do you have outside of the Department?
Ha! I used to like golf and had a passion for landscape photography. Rick Bedlack would be too nice to say that giving up golf was not a bad thing for me, but maybe I will try to find my Hasselblad.

Stacy Beach

Stacy with his family--Bryan, Andrea, Tina, Mark--as well as two unruly dogs during a 2014 visit to Emerald Isle.