World-leading epilepsy expert Samuel Berkovic receives one of medicine’s highest honours

Image of Professor Samuel Berkovic.
World-leading epilepsy expert Professor Samuel Berkovic has received one of medicine’s highest honours.

World-leading epilepsy expert Professor Samuel Berkovic today received one of medicine’s highest honours when he was named an international member of the National Academy of Medicine (NAM).

The NAM is an independent organisation of eminent professionals who advise the US Government and the international community on critical issues in health, medicine and related policy and act to inspire positive action.

Membership is considered one of the highest honours in the fields of health and medicine and recognises individuals who have demonstrated outstanding professional achievements and commitment to service – just 10 international members are elected membership each year.

The Director of Austin Health’s Comprehensive Epilepsy Program and Laureate Professor in the University of Melbourne’s Department of Medicine and Epilepsy Research Centre, Professor Berkovic described the appointment as humbling.

“I am humbled and delighted to join the small group of other Australian medical researchers who are members of the prestigious National Academy of Medicine of the USA,” Professor Berkovic said.

“It is an amazing honour and one that is a tribute to our wonderful research team at the University of Melbourne and Austin Health.”

In 1995 Professor Berkovic and Austin Health Director of Paediatrics and University of Melbourne Chair of Paediatric Neurology Research Professor Ingrid Scheffer and their collaborators discovered the first gene linked to epilepsy.

This was a game-changer in the way the debilitating condition – which affects about 50 million people worldwide - is researched, diagnosed and treated.

Until this point doctors tended to regard most forms of epilepsy as acquired rather than inherited – parents often felt responsible and carried considerable guilt.

Since then Professor Berkovic and Professor Scheffer have led the way in finding a genetic basis for many epilepsies and they and their colleagues have identified many of the genes known to be directly linked with forms of epilepsy.

Austin Health Chief Executive Sue Shilbury said the organisation is extremely proud of Professor Berkovic.

“This achievement reflects the incredible contribution Professor Berkovic’s research and treatment has made to global medicine and the lives of countless people with epilepsy and their families,’’ Ms Shilbury said.

Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences Dean and Vice-Chancellor (Health) Shitij Kapur said Professor Berkovic has been a passionate campaigner for advancing research into epilepsy.

“With patience and perception, Professor Berkovic has worked resolutely to change the course of our understanding of epilepsy and in doing so has helped improve the lives of many people,” Professor Kapur said.

"This exceptional contribution is now also acknowledged by the NAM, and we congratulate him on this major award."