David A. Hafler MD

William S. and Lois Stiles Edgerly Professor of Neurology and Professor of Immunobiology; Chair, Department of Neurology; Neurologist-in-Chief, Yale New Haven Hospital


Biography

Dr. Hafler is the William S. and Lois Stiles Edgerly Professor and Chairman Department of Neurology, Yale School of Medicine and is the Neurologist-in-Chief of the Yale-New Haven Hospital. He graduated magna cum laude in 1974 from Emory University with combined B.S. and M.Sc. degrees in biochemistry, and the University of Miami School of Medicine in 1978. He then completed his internship in internal medicine at Johns Hopkins followed by a neurology residency at Cornell Medical Center-New York Hospital in New York.

Dr. Hafler received training in immunology at the Rockefeller University then at Harvard where he joined the faculty in 1984. He was one of the Executive Directors of the Program in Immunology at Harvard Medical School and was on the faculty of the Harvard-MIT Health Science and Technology program where he was actively involved in the training of graduate students and post-doctoral fellows.

Hafler, in many respects, is credited with identifying the central mechanisms underlying the likely cause of MS. His early seminal work demonstrated that the disease began in the blood, not the brain, which eventually led to the development of Tysabri to treat the disease by blocking the movement of immune cells from the blood to the brain. He was the first to identify myelin-reactive T cells in the disease, published in Nature, showing that indeed, MS was an autoimmune disorder. He then went on to show why autoreactive T cells were dysregulated by the first identification of regulatory T cells in humans followed by demonstration of their dysfunctional state in MS. As a founding, Broad Institute member, Hafler identified the genes that cause MS, published in the New England Journal of Medicine and Nature. More recently, he identified the key transcription factors and signaling pathways associated with MS genes as potential treatment targets. Finally, he recently discovered that salt drives induction of these pathogenic myelin reactive T cells, both works published in Nature. Hafler was the Breakstone Professor of Neuroscience at Harvard, and became Chairman of Neurology at Yale in 2009, where he has built an outstanding clinical and research program that strongly integrates medical sciences. He has received numerous honors including the Dystel Prize from the AAN for his MS research and is among the most highly cited living neurologists.