Aug. 16, 2007
Vol. 26 No. 20

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    Seiden, pioneer in psychopharmacology, dies at 72

    A leading authority on the relationship between brain chemistry and behavior, and on the neurotoxicity of various prescription and illicit drugs, Lewis S. Seiden, Professor Emeritus in Pharmacological & Physiological Sciences and of Psychiatry, died Thursday, July 26, in the Vitas Hospice unit at Mercy Hospital in Chicago after a 50-year struggle with dystonia.

    Seiden, 72, was one of the world’s experts on how drugs, especially the amphetamines, could selectively damage certain neurons, particularly those that produced the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin. Data collected by Seiden and one of his former colleagues, Charles Schuster, played a key role in persuading the federal Drug Enforcement Agency to declare the popular mood-altering drug Ecstasy a controlled substance in 1985.

    Seiden also testified before the Food and Drug Administration in 1996 about potential serotonin neurotoxic effects of another stimulant, dexfenfluramine, which had been approved for weight loss. Dexfenfluramine as well as fenfluramine were both withdrawn from the market in 1997 because of potentially lethal cardiovascular side effects, now thought to be related to serotonin.

    Former graduate student George Ricaurte (M.D., Ph.D.,’79), now a professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins University, remembered Seiden as not only a brilliant scientist but also a warm human being, curious about the world. “He had a unique ability to talk to anyone, a genuine interest in what they had to say, and the capacity, when necessary, to disagree without being disagreeable,” said Ricaurte.

    Born Aug. 1, 1934, in Chicago, Seiden grew up in Chicago’s South Shore neighborhood. When his family moved to the newly created suburb of Park Forest, he attended a nearby rural high school for two years before he was granted early admission and a full-tuition scholarship to the University.

    At age 20, shortly before his expected graduation, Seiden was stricken with dystonia musculorum deformans, a disease characterized by uncontrollable muscle contractions. Seiden spent a year convalescing, and with peripheral neurosurgical procedures performed by then head of Neurosurgery, John Mullan, Seiden was able to return to his studies. Despite considerable residual disability, he completed his A.B. in 1956 and his S.B. in biology in 1958.

    In 1962, Seiden completed a Ph.D. in biopsychology at Chicago, and then did post-doctoral research with Arvid Carlsson at the University of Goteborg, Sweden, where he introduced behavioral pharmacology to their research.

    “As a scientist, he could see aspects of a problem that other people just didn’t notice,” said his wife Anne, a physician, whom he met when they were both graduate students at Chicago. They married in 1962. “He was interested not just in how a drug influenced a patient’s behavior but also in how individual differences in patients could alter the effects of a drug.”

    Following his Sweden fellowship, he served as a Research Associate in Pharmacology in 1963. He then did a second post-doctoral fellowship at Stanford University before returning to Chicago as an instructor in Pharmacology & Physiology and of Psychiatry in 1965. He became an Assistant Professor in 1967, Associate Professor in 1972 and Professor in 1977. He also taught in the College, and served as a member of the Committee on Neurobiology and the Brain Research Institute.

    Seiden quickly established himself as a pioneer in the emerging field of psychopharmacology, the study of the behavioral effects of drugs and how they work in the brain. He co-authored a 1977 textbook with Linda Dykstra, titled Psychopharmacology: A Behavioral and Biochemical Approach.

    Seiden also was selected to serve on the President’s Advisory Committee on Mental Health in 1978, the board of scientific counselors for the National Institute of Environmental Health Services, and the Life Sciences Working Group for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

    He was a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Psychological Association. In 2002, the University awarded him its Gold Key Award for outstanding and loyal service to the Biological Sciences Division and the University.

    Surviving Seiden are his wife, Anne Seiden (M.D.,’64) of Chicago; their three children: Alex (Larraine) Seiden, Evelyn (Toby) Ivey, and Samuel Seiden (M.D.,’06); and one grandson, Lewis G. Seiden, all of whom reside in the San Francisco Bay area.

    A memorial service will be held at 5 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 19, in Bond Chapel, 1050 E. 59th St. A reception will follow at the Quadrangle Club, 1155 E. 57th St. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Dystonia Medical Research Foundation, http://www.dystonia-foundation.org, One E. Wacker Drive, Suite 2430, Chicago, Ill. 60601-1905.