Stiff person syndrome: Celine Dion’s diagnosis highlights rare condition
December 14, 2022
Vice Chair for Education & Faculty Affairs
Steven Vernino, M.D., Ph.D., is a Distinguished Teaching Professor and Executive Vice Chair for Academic Affairs in the Department of Neurology at UT Southwestern Medical Center.
A neurologist, Dr. Vernino specializes in evaluating, diagnosing, and nonsurgically treating autoimmune neurological disorders, autonomic disorders, and neuromuscular disorders.
He serves as Director of the Autonomic Disorders Clinic, the multidisciplinary Multiple System Atrophy (MSA) Clinic, and the Autonomic Disorders Fellowship Program. He is also Co-Director of the Autoimmune Neurology Fellowship Program.
Dr. Vernino earned his medical and Ph.D. degrees in neuroscience at Baylor College of Medicine. He completed a neurology residency and fellowship training in neuroimmunology and electromyography (EMG) at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
He joined the UT Southwestern faculty in 2004.
Dr. Vernino holds the Dr. Bob and Jean Smith Foundation Distinguished Chair in Neuromuscular Disease Research. His primary research goal is improving the diagnosis and treatment of autoimmune neurological disorders and helping to establish the field of autoimmune neurology.
Most notably, Dr. Vernino has identified the presence of antibodies to ganglionic acetylcholine receptors as the cause of autoimmune autonomic ganglionopathy, a rare autonomic nervous system disorder. He has also characterized several neurological antibodies related to paraneoplastic disorders.
Dr. Vernino has published more than 100 peer-reviewed articles and dozens of book chapters.
A Fellow of both the American Academy of Neurology and the American Neurological Association, Dr. Vernino is board certified in neurology, neuromuscular medicine, electrodiagnostic medicine, and autonomic disorders.
Among his many professional activities, Dr. Vernino serves on the medical advisory boards of the Myasthenia Gravis Foundation, The Multiple System Atrophy Coalition, and Dysautonomia International. He is also on the board of directors of the American Autonomic Society.
He has received numerous awards for his work as a clinician, researcher, and teacher, including the 1998 American Academy of Neurology (AAN) Founders Award, the 2013 AAN Program Director Recognition Award, and the 2018 University of Texas Regents Outstanding Teacher Award. He was inducted into the Southwestern Academy of Teachers in 2015.
UT Southwestern Medical Center’s Steven Vernino, M.D., Ph.D., is part of a small subset of neurologists nationwide that specializes in diagnosing and treating autoimmune neurological disorders and autonomic disorders.
Autoimmune neurological disorders are diseases of the brain, spine, and nervous system caused by the patient’s misdirected immune response. Autonomic disorders affect the nerves that control unconscious bodily functions such as the heart rate, blood pressure, perspiration, digestion, and bladder and bowel emptying.
A three-time D Magazine Best Doctor, Dr. Vernino is fellowship trained and board certified in neurology, neuromuscular medicine, electrodiagnostic medicine, and autonomic disorders.
Dr. Vernino and his colleagues are recognized experts in diagnosing and treating myasthenia gravis, a rare autoimmune neuromuscular disorder. Dr. Vernino is also an international expert on paraneoplastic neurological disorders (brain and nerve diseases that occur in cancer patients) and autoimmune encephalitis and disorders of the autonomic nervous system including autonomic neuropathy, dysautonomia, and multiple system atrophy.
Dr. Vernino says the key to correctly diagnosing and successfully managing these often complex conditions is the expertise gained through experience.
“Because we see a lot of patients with these diseases, we’re able to pick up things that other centers might not,” he notes. “We also have a good idea of which patients are going to benefit from which therapies, and we’re able to personalize the care we deliver.”
“UT Southwestern offers not only the most advanced technologies and tools but also the experience and clinical skills necessary to expertly evaluate and treat these conditions.”
Dr. Vernino and his fellow physician-scientists conduct a great deal of research on the conditions they treat – advancing both the knowledge about them and the therapies used to manage them.
“Our team’s involvement in nearly every national research study in these areas really sets us apart,” Dr. Vernino says. “My lab works to identify antibodies in patients with autoimmune neurologic disorders, which can be used diagnostically and to help us understand the way these diseases work, guiding us to better treatments.”
Dr. Vernino believes in fostering a strong physician-patient partnership. “We’re in this together with our patients,” he says. “To deliver the very best care, it’s important that we take the time to talk to them, help them understand what’s going on and why, and explain what the options are for doing something about it.”
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