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Dr. Milton Alter, pioneer in the field of neuroepidemiology

Nov. 11, 1929 – Feb. 4, 2016

Dr. Milton Alter, a pioneer in the field of neuroepidemiology, noted clinician and teacher, died Feb. 4 under hospice care in Philadelphia. He was 86.

Over the course of his career, Dr. Alter made major contributions to the understanding of the complex roles of heredity and environmental factors involved in the pathogenesis of multiple sclerosis. His landmark studies of populations in Israel and other countries put neuroepidemiology on course as an emerging scientific area of study. He also contributed to the understanding of other neurological diseases and conditions, including stroke and Alzheimer’s disease.

Born in Buffalo, Dr. Alter graduated magna cum laude from the University of Buffalo in 1951, where he earned his medical degree in 1955. He began his medical career with the National Institutes of Health, where he served for six years as U.S. public health service officer in neuroepidemiology, conducting research throughout the United States and Canada, as well as in Jerusalem from 1960-1962. The years spent in Israel helped Dr. Alter fully develop a neuroepidemiological methodology that benefited from the concentration of distinct immigrant populations and a high-functioning health system.

Dr. Alter returned to the United States in 1966 and completed his doctoral degree at the University of Minnesota.

He then served as professor of neurology at the University of Minnesota and chief of the neurology service at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Minneapolis. In 1975-76, he served as interim chairman of neurology at Beilinson Hospital (now Rabin Medical Center) near Tel Aviv and from 1976 to 1987 he was chairman of the Department of Neurology at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia. He held clinical professorships at several Philadelphia hospitals and was visiting scientist at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University’s Hadassah Medical School for more than 20 years.

Dr. Alter co-authored six books, contributed chapters to dozens and published nearly 200 articles. He was a reviewer or consulting editor of more than a dozen journals and served as editor in chief of neuroepidemiology for seven years. He was much sought after as a presenter at medical conferences and enjoyed medical legal work, as well.

He was a passionate gardener and lover of the arts. He also was very committed to his Jewish faith and tradition.

He is survived by his wife of 63 years, Reina Rolnick Alter; four sons, David, Daniel, Michael and Joel; a daughter, Naomi Alter-Ohayon; and a sister, Marlene Joseph; and nine grandchildren.

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