Robert M. Friedlander, MD

  • Chair, Walter E. Dandy Distinguished Professor
  • Head of Cerebrovascular Neurosurgery
  • Director, Complex Brain Surgery Program
  • Co-Director, UPMC Neurological Institute

Robert Friedlander, MD, MA, is the Walter E. Dandy Distinguished Professor, chair of the University of Pittsburgh Department of Neurological Surgery and co-director of the UPMC Neurological Institute, positions he has held since 2010. Before coming to the University of Pittsburgh, Dr. Friedlander was a professor at Harvard Medical School. He was also vice-chairman of neurosurgery, associate director of cerebrovascular surgery and co-director of the Neuroscience Research Center at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

Dr. Friedlander has received a number of significant academic awards, most significantly an induction into the prestigious National Academy of Medicine in 2019. Election to the academy is considered one of the highest honors in the fields of health and medicine and recognizes individuals who have demonstrated outstanding professional achievement and commitment to service. He has also received the Bayer Cerebrovascular Award from the Joint Section of Cerebrovascular Surgery, the International Charcot Prize for Motor Neuron Diseases, the Award from the Academy of Neurological Surgeons, the H. Richard Winn Prize from the Society of Neurological Surgeons, and the Distinguished Chancellor University of Pittsburgh Research Award.

Dr. Friedlander is an elected member of the prestigious American Society for Clinical Investigation, and the Association of American Physicians. As a sign of his prominence as a clinician and scientist, Dr. Friedlander is one of a very select group of authors to have been invited by the New England Journal of Medicine to write both a basic science review (mechanisms of neuronal cell death), as well as a clinical review (management of AVMs). Clinically, Dr. Friedlander focuses on the operative management of complex cerebrovascular disorders, brain tumors and Chiari malformations.

Dr. Friedlander’s major research interests lie in the study of the mechanistic pathways of the caspase apoptosis gene family. His work includes the evaluation of treatment strategies for neurodegenerative diseases (Huntington’s and ALS), stroke, brain trauma, and spinal cord injury through the modulation of the caspase-family apoptotic pathways. He was first to demonstrate activation and a functional role of caspase cell death pathways in neurological diseases. His research has received significant media attention. His major work has been published in the highest impact journals, most notably four publications in Nature, two in Science, one in Nature Medicine, one in Nature Neuroscience and eight in PNAS. For over two decades, he has had continuous NIH support as a principal investigator, as well numerous foundation awards. He directs a busy and prolific laboratory.

Dr. Friedlander served on the National Advisory Council of the National Institutes of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). Additionally, a reward-ing aspect of Dr. Friedlander’s activities is his involvement in organized neurosurgery. He was a member of the executive committee of the Congress of Neurological Surgeons, as well as chair of the CNS Research Committee, the CNS Membership Committee, and the CNS Publications Committee. He directed the Society of Neurological Surgeons RUNN (Research Update in Neuroscience for Neurosurgeons) Course from 2004 to 2018 and served as chair of the Society of Neurological Surgeons research committee. He is a past chair of the AANS/CNS Joint Section of Cerebrovascular Surgery.

A native of Caracas, Venezuela, Dr. Friedlander came to the United States in 1983 and earned a joint BA and MA in biochemistry from Brandeis University in 1987. In 1991, he graduated from Harvard Medical School and went on to fulfill his internship in general surgery and residency in neurosurgery at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Dr. Friedlander's publications can be reviewed through the National Library of Medicine's publication database.

Specialized Areas of Interest

Aneurysms, vascular malformations, brain tumors, carotid disease, cerebrovascular disease, Chiari malformation, spinal cord tumors. Research focuses on mechanisms of apoptosis, Huntington’s disease, ALS, and stroke.

Board Certifications

American Board of Neurological Surgeons

Hospital Privileges

UPMC Altoona
UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh
UPMC Hamot
UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital
UPMC Mercy
UPMC Passavant
UPMC Presbyterian
UPMC Shadyside

Professional Organization Membership

American Academy of Neurological Surgeons
American Association for the Advancement of Science
American Association of Neurological Surgeons
American Association of Physicians
American Society for Clinical Investigation
Brain Aneurysm Foundation, Medical Advisory Board
Congress of Neurological Surgeons
Joint Section of Cerebrovascular Surgery
National Academy of Medicine
Pennsylvania Neurosurgical Society
Sociedad Venezolana de Neurocirugia
Society for Neurological Surgeons
Society for Neuroscience

Professional Activities

Director, RUNN Course, Society of Neurological Surgeons
Research Committee, Society of Neurological Surgeons
Clinical Trials Subcommittee, NINDS National Advisory Council
Fellowships and Training Subcommittee, NINDS National Advisory Council
Basic Science Subcommittee, NINDS National Advisory Council
Annual Meeting Committee, American Association of Neurological Surgeons
Research Committee, American Association of Neurological Surgeons
Chair, Scientific Program Committee, American Academy of Neurological Surgery
Chair, AANS/CNS Joint Cerebrovascular Section, American Academy of Neurological Surgery
Host, Fridays with Friedlander weekly webcast, neurosurgery.pitt.edu

Education & Training

  • BA, Brandeis University, 1987
  • MA, Biochemistry, Brandeis University, 1987
  • MD, Harvard Medical School, 1991

Honors & Awards

  • Distinguished Chancellor University of Pittsburgh Research Award, 2021
  • Pittsburgh’s Best Doctors, Pittsburgh Magazine, 2012-21
  • National Academy of Medicine induction, 2019
  • Honored Guest, HRH Crown Prince Alexander and HRH Crown Princess Katherine, Belgrade, Serbia, 2014
  • Honored Guest, US Ambassador, Belgrade, Serbia, 2013
  • America’s Top Surgeons, 2013
  • Castle Connolly Top Doctor in the Field of Neurological Surgery, 2013
  • H. Richard Winn Prize for Neurosurgical Research, 2012

Research Activities

The focus of Dr. Friedlander’s research is the study of the basic mechanisms of apoptosis, as mediated by the caspase apoptotic family in neurological diseases. In addition, discovering novel approaches to ameliorate the impact of cell death in a variety of neurological diseases is a central theme of his Neuroapoptosis Laboratory. 

  • Dr. Friedlander is evaluating the impact apoptotic cell death, and, in particular, that mediated by the caspase cell death family on the pathogenesis of neurodegenerative diseases. Neurodegenerative diseases presently being investigated are Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) as well as Huntington’s Disease (HD). Activation of the caspase cell death cascade appears to play an important role in a variety of neurodegenerative diseases. Dr. Friedlander has demonstrated that inhibition of the Caspase-1 (also known as ICE) apoptotic protein slows the progression and delays mortality in transgenic mouse models of ALS and Huntington’s disease. Furthermore, delivering caspase inhibitors directly into the brain of these transgenic mice prolongs their survival. This was the first time that any intervention had been demonstrated efficacious in an ALS or HD model. Adding relevancy to these findings, he has demonstrated that caspase-1 is activated in the brain and spinal cord of humans with HD and ALS respectively. Dr. Friedlander has also demonstrated that Minocycline demonstrates neuroprotection in a mouse model of HD.
     
  • Apoptotic cell death plays a significant role in stroke as well as traumatic brain and spinal cord injury. Dr. Friedlander is evaluating the impact caspase activation has on apoptotic cell death in these conditions. The relation of the caspase family and free radical production is also being investigated. Targeted caspase-mediated pharmacoprotection is also being investigated.
     
  • Using in vitro models, Dr. Friedlander is evaluating both the mechanisms involved in the activation of ICE, as well as the post-ICE activation pathways involved cell death. The role of Interleukin-1 in apoptosis continues to be a focus of research. He is continuing to evaluate the basic mechanisms of cell death, and especially as they relate to neurologic diseases.

Media Appearances

Can a Brain Surgeon Operate an Excavator?
Outdoors with the Morgans
October 30, 2022

Robert Friedlander Discusses UPMC Neurosurgery
WPXI-TV: Our Region's Business
October 2, 2022

Republicans suggest John Fetterman is too sick to serve. Neurologists call attacks uninformed
abcnews.com
September 9, 2022

UPMC breaks ground on new Presbyterian Hospital building
WTAE-TV 4 Action News
June 14, 2022

UPMC CEO Leslie Davis talks about the 3 big hospital projects
Pittsburgh Business Times
June 14, 2022

Outdoors With The Morgans Visits Dr. Friedlander
Outdoors with the Morgans
February 2, 2022

New Technology That Makes Brain Surgery Safer
Living Minute | Health Channel (South Florida PBS)
August 24, 2021

Carnegie Mellon student participates in own brain surgery
WKBN TV-27 (Youngstown, Ohio)
February 23, 2021

Carnegie Mellon University students participate in their neurosurgery
Pennsylvania News Today
February 23, 2021

From headache to temporary loss of speech, CMU student participates in her own brain surgery
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
February 22, 2021

Winston-Salem woman raises awareness about Huntington’s disease
Fox News 8 (Winston-Salem, N.C.)
June 24, 2020

Selecting Right Mouse Model Key for Huntington’s Research, Therapy Development, Study Finds
Huntington’s Disease News
January 2, 2020

Brain Neurons Disconnect from Each Other in Process Called Neuritosis, Mouse Study of Huntington’s Reveals
Huntington's Disease News
January 24, 2019

Research Describes How Neurons Can Be Separated From Huntington’s Disease
Industry News Today
December 28, 2018

Mayor Beats Dangerous Brain Tumor
Pittsburgh Magazine
April 25, 2018

Mark Boughton's Physicians Say He's Fit To Serve As Governor
Hartford Courant
March 28, 2018

Boughton's doctors say seizure no reason not to run for Governor
WTNH TV-8 (New Haven, Conn.)
March 28, 2018

Boughton's Doctors Clear Mayor for Run for Governor
NBC Connecticut
March 28, 2018

Boughton Offers Glimpse Into His Medical History, Brain Surgery
Connecticut News Junkie
March 28, 2018

Doctors say seizure, surgery no bar to Boughton’s campaign
The Connecticut Mirror
March 28, 2018

Mayor Mark Boughton Returns Home To Danbury After Brain Surgery
Danbury Daily Voice
August 17, 2017

Boughton recalls harrowing night before brain surgery
Danbury NewsTimes
August 16, 2017

Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton out of hospital after brain surgery
Danbury NewsTimes
August 10, 2017

Boughton recovering after brain surgery
The Litchfield County Times
August 9, 2017

Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton up and walking after brain surgery
Danbury NewsTimes
August 9, 2017

UPMC-Developed Fiber Tracking Technology Being Called Life-Changing For Cancer Patients
KDKA-TV Evening News
September 8, 2016

Crown prince of Serbia seeks Pittsburgh medical expertise for his homeland
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
April 26, 2015

Crown Prince Alexander and Crown Princess Katherine at a Charity Dinner in Pittsburgh
royalfamily.org
April 25, 2015

Neurosurgical treatments give patients chance at pain-free lives
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
February 7, 2015

Hospitals bank on neurosurgery procedures to boost bottom line
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
February 7, 2015

Talented woodworker survives brain cancer after delicate surgery
WTAE-TV 4 Pittsburgh
December 24, 2014

Bride Walks Down the Aisle
WTAE-TV 4 Pittsburgh
October 7, 2014

Friedlander Discusses Brain Aneurysms
KDKA Radio Morning News
August 20, 2014

Why Major League Pitchers Won’t Wear This Weird Hat
New York Times Magazine
July 24, 2014

Surgery can fix brain aneurysm; support can help recovery
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
July 7, 2014

New Study Supports Conservative Management Over Intervention for Unruptured Brain AVMs
Neurology Today
June 5, 2014

Study shows for first time how Huntington's disease protein could cause death of neurons
Medical Xpress
May 19, 2014

Pitt Study Shows How Huntington’s Disease Protein Could Cause Death of Neurons
Gant Daily
May 19, 2014

Former college football player, city firefighter sues NCAA over concussions
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
December 17, 2013

Ex-player sues NCAA over football injuries
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
December 17, 2013

Foundations give Pitt $100,000 for ALS research
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
October 7, 2013

Pitt findings on Lou Gehrig's disease may hold hope
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
April 26, 2013

Melatonin Delays ALS Symptom Onset and Death in Mice
Science Daily
April 25, 2013

Cerebral Aneurysms: Analyzing the Treatment Shift
Physician's Weekly
February 13, 2013

Melatonin Delays Onset, Reduces Deaths in Mouse Model of Huntington’s Disease
Science Daily
October 11, 2011

Rep. Giffords has surgery to repair skull
Washington Times
May 19, 2011

Caspases—Guilty of Murder in First, and Now Second Degrees
Altzheimer Research Forum
March 12, 2011

UPMC Doctor Discusses Prognosis For Rep. Gabrielle Giffords
WTAE-TV (Pittsburgh) Action News
January 10, 2011

Blocking Apoptosis Delays ALS in Mice
Altzheimer Research Forum
October 15, 2010

The lasting impact of concussions
Yahoo! Sports
August 18, 2010

What caused the woman's headache and paralysis?
Boston Globe
July 13, 2004

Newsmaker: Dr. Robert Friedlander
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
June 17, 2010

Antibiotic May Slow Gehrig's Disease
Associated Press 
May 6, 2002

An Old Antibiotic Generates New Hopes
New York Times
July 11, 2000

Minocycline slows progress of Huntington's disease in mice
British Medical Journal
July 8, 2000

Antibiotic may help fight Huntington's
USA Today
June 27, 2000

Brain drug shows promise: Slows ALS, may treat other diseases
Boston Herald
April 14, 2000

Lou Gehrig's disease slowed in mice
Boston Globe
April 14, 2000

Way To Delay Huntington's Disease Found
Harvard University Gazette
June 19, 1999

Scientists slow progress of Huntington's in mice
CNN.com
May 20, 1999

Hope in Brain-Disorder Fight/Tests yield Huntington's clues
Newsday
May 20, 1999

Approach may slow Huntington’s
MSNBC.com
May 19, 1999

Scientists slow progress of Huntington's in mice
ABC News
May 19, 1999

Study Targets Huntington's Key
CBS News 
May 19, 1999

UPMC Videos

UPMC Neurological Institute | UPMC HealthBeat Podcast
Dr. Friedlander discusses the specialized, cutting-edge and individualized care offered to patients at the largest academic neurosurgery department in the nation

High Definition Fiber Tractography
Dr. Friedlander discusses High definition fiber tractography (HDFT) at UPMC.

Carotid Stenosis
Dr. Friedlander discusses the diagnosis and treatment of carotid stenosis. (ver en Español)

Chiari Malformation
Dr. Friedlander discusses the diagnosis and treatment of Chiari Malformations. (ver en Español)

Trabajo en Equipo
Dr. Friedlander discute el enfoque del trabajo en equipo para el tratamiento de pacientes neuroquirúrgicos en UPMC.

Aneurismas
Dr. Friedlander analiza las opciones de tratamiento de los aneurismas no rotos en UPMC.