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Portrait of a Pioneer: Brenda Milner’s 65-year Neuro legacy
When Brenda Milner was a young graduate student beginning her career at the Montreal Neurological Institute (MNI) in 1950, she was given two pieces of advice: “make yourself as useful as you can” and “don’t get in anybody’s way”.
After a stellar career of 65 years, more than 20 honorary degrees, numerous academic awards (including the 2014 Kavli Prize in Neuroscience), and an outstanding record of ground-breaking research, it’s safe to say the world-renowned neuropsychologist has surpassed those original, modest benchmarks.
When Milner began working at the MNI, it was at the threshold of a modern era of investigation into the complexities of the brain and the nervous system. These were the heady beginnings of neuroscience and the Neuro was front and centre, pioneering a surgical procedure for patients suffering from epileptic seizures.
“Neuroscience is a great success story and the Neuro is part of that story,” says Milner.
Today, Milner is Dorothy J. Killam Professor at the MNI and professor in the department of neurology and neurosurgery at McGill University. She has contributed to enormous advances in helping patients through her discoveries about the brain and memory. Milner’s research has also had a profound influence on the development of tests to treat people with brain disorders resulting from traumatic injury and degenerative diseases, and from psychiatric illness.
As one might expect, Milner brings the same clinical rigour that characterizes her research, to her gift to the Neuro. Her bequest will be directed to the epilepsy program, supporting post-graduate fellowships, a targeted need that she knows will greatly benefit from donor support.
“When you complete your PhD and want to continue your research, it’s really very difficult,” she says.
At 97 years old (Milner attributes her longevity to good genes, a social network, a little exercise and the benefits of bilingualism), she could easily rest – or retire – on her remarkable laurels, but laurel-resting does not suit Milner and she continues to bring the same fervour to her work as she did when she stepped inside the front doors of the Neuro for the first time back in 1950.
“It’s exciting to see the research evolve,” she says.
This year the Annual Brenda Milner Lecture and Neuropsychology Day will be held on May 9. Dr. Milner will celebrate her 98th birthday in July.
The Neuro relies on our loyal community of donors in order to unlock the mysteries behind some of the most devastating neurological diseases and disorders of our time, and to help the patients and families affected by them. Your donation can make all the difference to the future of neurological care. Please give generously!