Dr. Michael Friedlander

Dr. Michael Friedlander

Dr. Michael Friedlander received his B.S. in Biology from Florida State University, his Ph.D. in Physiology and Biophysics from the University of Illinois and did postdoctoral training in neurophysiology at the University of Virginia and SUNY Stony Brook. He is the founding president of the Association of Medical School Neuroscience Department Chairs (AMSNDC) and Chair of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) Council of Academic Societies (CAS). Dr. Friedlander has served on various NIH and NSF panels. He is a member of the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives, and he serves as the Editor for the Neuroscience section of the Journal of Experimental Biology and Medicine and an Associate Editor on the cellular/molecular section of the Journal of Neuroscience. Dr. Friedlander is a recipient of the William Menninger Award for Mental Health Research and the University of Illinois Distinguished Alumnus in Molecular and Integrative Physiology.

On his maternal side of the family the grandparents fled Ireland during the potato famine in hopes of finding a job and a ready source of food for the entire family.  The couple made a new home in Greensburg, PA and had their daughter Phyllis and her two siblings.  Tragedy struck the Murtha family when both parents were killed in a car accident making the children orphans. Phyllis stayed in the state orphanage system until she became an emancipated minor while her siblings were growing up with an aunt and uncle.  This challenging childhood led the future Mrs. Friedlander to being self-sufficient, finding work in Pennsylvania to take care of her necessities.  At the approximate age of 17 she met and married Norris Friedlander upon his return from war, they chose to settle in Miami, FL and they started their family.

On the paternal side of the family the Friedlander’s fled Russia as religious refugees, the grandfather was 11 years old when he came to the U.S. and became a fought in WWI veteran.  His son Norris Friedlander followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the air force during WWII, as a result he had the G.I bill to pay for his education while he maintained odd jobs as a cab driver, postal worker and he earned his CPA degree.  

Both Phyllis and Norris raised their sons in Miami, Florida blocks away from the many animal habitats of the Everglades and quiet beaches, an idyllic place for their boys William and Michael who loved the outdoors. One of the fondest memories for young Friedlander was fishing on Fridays in the unique location where the ocean and the bay connected (“Haul Over Cut”).  No matter what the week was like, Friday was the one time that was carved out for the family fishing in the evening using live shrimp for bait to snag a shark or even a stingray along with a variety of fish caught for dining.  

Michael’s childhood was spent in Miami public schools and enjoyed most sports, particularly basketball, baseball, and surfing.   Another part of Michael’s middle school years was being a participant in his local Junior Achievement and developing entrepreneurial skills selling his company product door to door.  During these years President Kennedy was assassinated, and the principal announced the name change of the Junior High to JFK, the first school in the country to bear the name of the 35th president.

Michael was a graduate of North Miami Senior High School, and his early goal was to pursue a political science degree like his older brother and mentor at Florida State University, Tallahassee.  Michael witnessed the success his brother was having as an attorney and the work he was doing with the American Civil Liberties Union and because the two had shared so much growing up he knew pursuing his path would work for him.

Yet, there was a persistent tug at the heart strings for all things that existed in the Everglades.  Many times, growing up, he and neighborhood boys would slip off to the everglades without their parents knowing.  That biosphere was chock full of adventure and a variety of habitats existed in addition to the alligators, birds, little critters, the affinity for different life forms and how they came to be. 

This “need to know” about the creation of lifeforms kept rising “front of mind” for young Friedlander as he was pouring over political, landmark decisions and economics, creating a huge conflict within him.  Finally mid-way through his sophomore year in college he approached his academic advisor and informed him of his desire to switch from poli-sci and economics and pursue biology and chemistry.  This change of majors meant cramming in 21 credit hours during fall and spring at Florida State and summer classes at the University of Miami as he worked the nights as a bellman.

The new science and research classes kept him engaged and matched his thirst for knowledge. His first lab hours led to a research project in his junior year. The project was observing the olfactory nerves in a gar fish to understand electro physiology.   The research success caught the eye of his Univ. of Florida- Tallahassee mentor Dr. Dexter Easton who studied Electrical properties of nerve cells. and unlocked the key for Mike to earn credits at the same time as acquiring research funds for his next University.  Thanks to Dr. Easton’s recommendations young Friedlander was accepted to University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana to meet another amazing researcher Ladd Prosser whose research influenced Michael in their research of effects on fish brains because of environmental extremes that may lead to retardation.   He went on to pursue his graduate work with a degree in Physiology and Biophysics as a PhD.  His post-doctoral fellowship work was conducted at UVA. While at this institution Friedlander studied the structure and function of individual nerve cells in the brain that process vision.  His mentor during his graduate work was Professor Murray Sherman who convinced young Friedland to continue more research at SUNY -Stoney Brook where he studied for 18 months.

His tenacity in research led to a job offer from Dean Jim Pittman at the University of Alabama Birmingham.  The Dean was considered a principal architect of the School of Medicine in Birmingham, known for his ability to recruit and retain nationally and internationally known physicians and scientists to work at UAB, Pittman was dean for 19 years, from 1973 to 1992. After serving in several teaching and administrative positions, including director of the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism and co-chair of the Department of Medicine, Pittman was appointed dean of the medical school in 1973.

Pittman had an abiding interest in graduate and medical students, challenging them to excel. In 1964, while a young faculty member, he established Medical Student Research Day, a program that continues 50 years later. He is credited with restoring a four-year medical school curriculum, replacing the 35-month program that was in place when he became dean, and creating space in the academic cycle for students to pursue research and service activities. He retired from the deanship in 1992.Friedlander’s style and concern for students appears to emulate that of Dean Pittman.

Pittman’s primary research interest was in thyroid physiology and disease. He was a popular visiting professor and lecturer at universities across the country and around the world, and received numerous professional awards, including the Abraham Flexner Award from the Association of American Medical Colleges, the Brotherhood Award from the National Conference of Christians and Jews, the Founders Medal from the Southern Society of Clinical Investigation, and honorary doctorates from Davidson College and UAB. He was inducted into the Alabama Academy of Honor in 1982.

While at UAB as a new faculty member Friedlander taught and conducted his own research, Dr. Pittman tapped him to grow into the position to build out the research studies and recruit other researchers.  Dr. Friedlander made strides in his twenty-five years at UAB as the founding Director of the Neurobiology Research Center, then the Founding Chair of the Department of Neurobiology and Director of the Civitan International Research Center. These three initiatives from 1996-2005 were recognized nationally for improving health and the impact our environment has on developing. During his time at UAB he was an endowed faculty with being awarded the first Evelyn F. McKnight Professor of Learning and Memory in Aging (2004-2005).

The years of research and securing funding to unveil the root of health concerns and finding cures has been the stuff that would keep Friedlander steeped in discovering another formula or solution, but he started to wonder if there were options he had not pursued now that he had 25 years in one place.  His curiosity led him to being invited to Roanoke Virginia to build a program from the ground up.  The right people showed up to grab Friedlander’s interest in Roanoke, Virginia.  Roanoke offered him the opportunity to connect with Virginia Tech and Charles Steger and Carilion’s Dr. Ed Murphy.  The two gentlemen painted a bright future that would flip the region from a train to brain economy.  The goal was to form a team to create the infrastructure for a Research Institute starting with funding, creating labs, purchasing equipment, building out the technology, marketing and of course a human resources department.  This free-market multiplier effect has equated to 80 people that now occupy the largest footprint in Riverside. 

Dr. Friedlander enjoyed this opportunity to develop Fralin Bio-medical research institute because of his knack for attracting talented people and his “joy in others success plus the joy in research.”  The ripple effect of building this new research institute has increased the economic strength for Roanoke valley.  Dr. Friedlander has put his energy into the Fralin Bio-Medical Research Institute with focus on brain disorders, cardiac, vascular, brain cancer, Parkinson’s’ disease, and Multiple Sclerosis.   Dr. Friedlander reports directly to the VT Provost and works in conjunction with the VT/ Carilion Medical School each institute is rapidly gaining national recognition evidenced by their medical school graduates all having tremendous success on “match day”.

The wonderful spinoff of FBRI is the Animal Cancer Care and Research Center that has expanded the amount of research to cure humans of cancer.  This new opportunity to analyze animals has led to innovative diagnostics and techniques, often using genetic analysis that are comparable to human genetics.

Dr. Friedlander’s success as a renowned researcher has led to key leadership as Vice President of Health Sciences and Technology at Virginia Tech University and Executive Director of Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VT Carilion and senior Dean for Research at VTC School of Medicine.  He has built FBRI’s research programs to over $140 Million in grants with 37 research teams and over 400 investigators and students.

Dr. Friedlander serves on the advisory board of the D. C. /Children’s National Hospital Research- VT Research on the old Walter Reed campus with concentration on cancer, behavioral, cardiac and brain studies. He has served as the principal investigator on multiple research grants on brain processes that mediate vision, developmental plasticity, and traumatic brain injury.

Outside of his university leadership Friedlander is the founding president of the Association of medical School Neuroscience Department Chairs, he has served as Chair of the Council of Academic Societies of the Association of American Medical Colleges- representing over 90 medical and scientific societies.  – AAMC joint task force on the Scientific Foundations of Future Physicians, and as an AAMC    Distinguished Service Member.  He served as Chair of the National Association of Intellectual Disabilities Research Centers, as President of the Society for Experimental Biology and Medicine (EBM) where he was also elected to the inaugural class of EBM Fellows and was elected as a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Friedlander is a recipient of an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellowship in Neuroscience that included a cash award, an NIH Fogarty Center Senior International Research Fellowship to the Australian National University, a Lucille Markey Foundation Center Award, a W.M. Keck Foundation Center Award, the American College of Physicians’ Menninger Award for Mental Health Research, the University of Illinois Distinguished Alumnus Award and   the   Distinguished  Scientist Award from the Society of Experimental Biology and Medicine. He held visiting Professorships at Oxford University, the Australian National University, and the U. of Paris.

Dr. Michael Friedlander was inducted into the Southwest Virginia Business Hall of Fame in 2022.

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