Karen Gale

1948 – 2014

The epilepsy community has lost a truly unique and powerful voice with the recent death of Karen Gale, Professor of Pharmacology at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. The basic statistics of her life as a researcher were that she had her early education in New York City, her undergraduate degree at the University of Michigan and her Ph.D.in Psychology from the University of Washington in 1975. After several years at the National Institute of Mental Health in the Laboratory of Preclinical Pharmacology with Erminio Costa she joined the faculty of Georgetown University where she was a dynamic force in the Department of Pharmacology for the remainder of her life and rose to the rank of professor and was one of the founders and the director of the Georgetown Interdisciplinary Program in Neuroscience.

Her research career was one of consistent excellence. Her first two publications were in Nature and Science, and 36 years later, she and her trainees were still publishing in such journals as the Journal of Neuroscience, PloS One and The Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, publishing 169 articles along the way.

Although Karen had a research agenda that was as wide as her active intellect, she was best known for her examination subcortical circuitry, its pharmacological manipulation and how altering their activity affected behavior. Her pioneering research on the critical roles of subcortical structures, including the substantia nigra on seizure control and propagation has had a major role in our understanding of the distributed nature of seizures and how they might be controlled. Her more recent work on the comorbidities of epilepsy including deleterious effects of antiepileptic compounds on neural development has stimulated great discussion within the epilepsy community. Although she was best known in epilepsy circles for her attention to the limbic system with an emphasis on glutamate and GABA-mediated influences on epileptic seizures and memory, her work on the neural substrates of Parkinsonism and cocaine-induced hyperkinesias extended her influence in the field of the neurobiology of disease. She was well ahead of the field with her emphasis on brain circuitry. Her contributions were recognized with the Epilepsy Research Recognition Award from the American Society of Pharmacology and Therapeutics in 1995 and the posthumous Extraordinary Contribution Award from the American Epilepsy Society.

Although Dr. Gale left an indelible mark as a researcher and educator, she is perhaps best known as a stalwart advocate for faculty, students and staff. She influenced and encouraged the careers and professional development off many junior colleagues. Karen was also recognized for her tireless commitment to the development of early career investigators, women and minority scientists in the epilepsy community through mentorship and advocacy. She started the Women in Epilepsy interest group at the American Epilepsy Society, and it was a special event as a male to invited to attend as an honorary member. There are very few people who have the vision, drive and strength of personality that Karen had, and even fewer who put these traits to the good use that she did. She is greatly missed. Georgetown University has established the "The Karen Gale Memorial Lecture for Women in Neuroscience" to memorialize this remarkable colleague and awarded her the prestigious Presidential Fellows Medal in October 2014.

Submitted by Edward Bertram