It is with a profound sense of loss—both on behalf of Johns Hopkins Medicine and personally—that I announce the death of John Griffin, an internationally acclaimed and admired expert on diseases of the peripheral nervous system. Known affectionately to all as Jack, he served as the founding director of the Johns Hopkins Brain Science Institute from 2007 until just earlier this month, and was a former director of the Department of Neurology. He died on Saturday, April 16, after a long battle with bladder cancer at the age of 69.
When Jack officially stepped down as director of the BSi on April 11, it was announced that the directorship henceforth would bear his name. Jeffrey Rothstein, a longtime colleague and friend of Jack’s, then was named the first John W. Griffin Director of the BSi.
Jack was one of the world’s top experts in both the clinical care and research into peripheral nerve disorders. He became a leading figure in studies of Guillain-Barré syndrome, a disease in which the immune system attacks nerves, leading to rapidly evolving paralysis of the legs, arms, face and breathing. He went on to play a central role in studying the mechanisms of nerve degeneration and regeneration, and his work led to numerous treatments for neuromuscular disorders.
He was so highly regarded and so extensively influential in the study of axons, the nerve fibers that conduct electrical impulses, and the Schwann cell, which covers and protects axons, that a two-day symposium entitled “The Friends of the Axon, the Schwann Cell and Jack Griffin” was held at Hopkins early in January. It featured an international gallery of top scientists in these fields. Among those who spoke glowingly of Griffin while describing their own latest research included faculty from the universities of Dusseldorf, Heidelburg, and Glasgow, as well as from Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Massachusetts, Emory, New York University, the Cleveland Clinic, the University of Michigan, the University of California San Diego, Hunter College and Hopkins. In addition to listening to more than a dozen scientific talks, those in attendance shared snippets of a life that undeniably altered the practice of neurology.
Beginning as a neurology resident at Hopkins in 1970, Griffin spent his entire four-decade career in the School of Medicine, but for a two-year stint as a clinical associate at the National Institutes of Neurological and Communicative Disorders and Stroke in Bethesda between 1973 and 1975. He ultimately earned Hopkins professorships in neurology, neuroscience and pathology.
Jack became head of the Department of Neurology and neurologist in chief of Hopkins Hospital in 1999. He oversaw the expansion of what already was the country’s largest neurology critical care unit to a 22-bed facility for the treatment of patients with severe strokes or traumatic brain injuries, intractable seizures, gunshot wounds, or requiring recuperation from significant brain or back surgeries. Because of Jack, Hopkins Hospital now has no peer in neurocritical care.
Jack also was a much-admired teacher, earning the School of Medicine’s Professors Award for Excellence in Teaching. As a mentor, he trained more than two dozen post-doctoral fellows, all of whom have gone on to distinguished careers at universities and institutes from Australia, China and Taiwan to Europe, the Middle East and throughout the United States.
In 2004, Jack and his wife, Dianne Griffin, an eminent virologist and professor of both medicine and neurology and the Alfred and Jill Sommer Professor and chair of the W. Harry Feinstone Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology in the Bloomberg School of Public Health. They became the first husband-and-wife team in the history of Hopkins Medicine to be elected to the prestigious Institute of Medicine in the same year.
Ill health compelled Jack to step down as head of neurology in 2006, but much to our relief—and benefit—he recovered sufficiently to become the founding director of the Brain Science Institute the next year. In 2007, he also received the Johns Hopkins Heritage Award for outstanding service to the university.
Few members of the Johns Hopkins Medicine community have been as admired professionally—and liked personally—as was Jack Griffin. His death is a great loss to the world of science and to those nearly countless number of friends here at Hopkins and around the globe.
A memorial service will be held at 2:00 PM on Wednesday, April 20, at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, 1900 Saint Paul Street, Baltimore, MD.
Edward D. Miller, M.D.
Dean of the Medical Faculty
CEO, Johns Hopkins Medicine
The family has expressed their wish that gestures of sympathy in lieu of flowers be made by charitable donations to the "Johns Hopkins University", c/o Fund for Johns Hopkins Medicine, 100 North Charles Street, Suite 436, Baltimore, MD 21201 with a note indicating the donation is in memory of Dr. Jack Griffin for the benefit of The John W. Griffin, MD Fund for Laboratory Investigation.
Dr. John W. Griffin, Hopkins neurology expert, dies
He was a prolific researcher and writer who was highly regarded for his study of axons, the nerve fibers that conduct electrical impulses. Dr. John W. "Jack" Griffin, an internationally acclaimed expert on diseases of the peripheral nervous system and founding director of the Johns Hopkins Brain Science Institute who had also headed the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine's department of neurology, died Saturday of bladder cancer at Gilchrist Hospice Care.