David R. Colman: 1949 - 2011


It is with great sadness that we inform you of the passing of Dr. David R. Colman, Director of the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital (The Neuro) of McGill University and the McGill University Health Centre, Wilder Penfield Professor of Neuroscience at McGill University and Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Neuroscience. 

Dr. Colman passed away unexpectedly early this morning, June 1, at the Montreal General Hospital. He had been ill for the past few months, but his physicians and friends felt he had turned a corner and was on the road to recovery.

We are shocked and saddened by this devastating news. Our deepest sympathies go out to Dr. Colman’s family and The Neuro community at this most difficult time.  We know he will be deeply missed by all whose lives he touched. 

Dr. Colman was deeply committed to Wilder Penfield’s original vision of an integrated research and clinical institution. Through his championship of The Neuro and all the people who work there, he drew people in, captivating them with the promise of a new neuroscience.

Under his leadership, The Neuro launched a $40-million capital campaign and was named one of the first Canadian national Centres of Excellence in Research and Commercialization. Dr. Colman approached science with a strong conviction in basic, curiosity-driven research and he believed in approaching problems from every angle. This commitment led to the multidisciplinary Neuroengineering Program at McGill and innovative programs in Neuropalliative Care as well as a major expansion in brain imaging at The Neuro. Dr. Colman was a mentor to many. He nurtured and encouraged young students to be curious about the world around them. He championed the Integrated Program in Neuroscience and was spearheading a collaborative project with the National Film Board of Canada to create an educational 3-D IMAX film about neuroscience for pre-teens.

Dr. Colman was a world-renowned scientist, who focused on problems related to myelination, spinal cord injury and nerve cell development and regeneration. His laboratory has made major contributions to our understanding of how nerves are protected and nurtured by the myelin sheath in the brain and in the peripheral nervous system, and how nerve cells communicate with each other across the synapse.  He was on the editorial boards of Neuron and Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience and authored more than 110 scientific publications in top tier scientific journals such as Science, Nature, Cell and Neuron to name a few.

Dr. Colman received his Bachelor of Science (Biology) with minor concentrations in English and Geology from New York University (NYU) in 1970, and his PhD in Neuroscience from the State University of New York in 1977.  After completing post-doctoral training with Dr. David D. Sabatini, Dr. Colman became an Assistant Professor of Cell Biology at NYU School of Medicine. In 1987, he joined the faculty of The Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons as an Associate Professor of Cell Biology, where he received several prestigious awards, including an Irma T. Hirschl Career Development Award, the Harold and Golden Lamport Award, the Basmajian Award for Teaching and Research, as well as a Jacob K. Javits Neuroscience Award from the National Institute of Neurological Diseases and Stroke. In 1993, he moved to the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, where he was the Annenberg Professor of Molecular Biology and Neuroscience, the Vice-Chairman for Research in the Department of Neurology, and the Scientific Director of The Corinne Goldsmith Dickinson Center for Multiple Sclerosis of The Mount Sinai School of Medicine. In September 2002, he moved to Montreal to become Director of The Neuro.

A memorial service is being planned and details will be forthcoming.

-A Joint Message from Principal and Vice Chancellor Heather Munroe-Blum and MUHC Director General and CEO, the Hon. Arthur T. Porter