Okun, a professor in the departments of neurology, neurosurgery and psychiatry, co-directs the UF Center for Movement Disorders and Neurorestoration, which he established with neurosurgeon Kelly Foote, M.D., in 2002. The center, which includes more than 40 interdisciplinary faculty members, delivers personalized care to patients with neurologic disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, Tourette syndrome and dystonia.
Okun has been at the forefront of developing and refining deep brain stimulation, a surgical technique that uses electric pulses delivered to the brain through small implantable leads. The therapy is used to override problematic signals in the brains of patients with movement disorders. Okun also studies a part of the brain called the basal ganglia, and has been developing new device-based approaches for patients suffering from a broad spectrum of neurological diseases. His research is funded by the National Institutes of Health and by many private foundations.
“Dr. Okun has been instrumental at UF in the development of leading-edge research for patients with movement disorders, and he is internationally renowned for his contributions to the field,” said David S. Guzick, M.D., Ph.D., senior vice president for health affairs at UF and president of UF Health. “He has established one of the world’s best deep brain stimulation programs at the University of Florida and, during his time as interim chair, has demonstrated effective leadership in faculty recruitment, residency training and research collaboration, and in creating an overall culture of excellence and commitment.”
Dr. Okun has served as interim chair of the department since January, and his appointment as the department chair comes at a time of major growth and change at UF Health, with a significant focus on the science and practice of neuromedicine. This will be a time in which the large number of neuoroscientists who have been recruited as UF faculty members will be seeking collaborative opportunities with faculty members in the department of neurology. In addition, clinical growth and coordination are anticipated in advance of the 2018 opening of the UF Health Neuromedicine Hospital.
“Dr. Okun was selected from a group of outstanding candidates brought to us through a national search,” said Michael Good, M.D., dean of the UF College of Medicine. “He presented a very compelling and forward-looking vision for the UF department of neurology.”
In his capacity as chair, Okun plans to recruit nearly two-dozen new faculty members and to restructure and grow the reputation of the residency program while enhancing its quality. He will work with health system leaders to acquire advanced neuroimaging equipment and help lead UF neurology and neuroscience research programs to national preeminence, according to Good.
“I am truly humbled to be selected as the next UF Health chair of neurology,” Okun said. The construction of the new UF Health Neuromedicine Hospital will be occurring in parallel with important strategic expansions in our faculty and with the expansion of an aggressive research vision. We also plan to enhance our already excellent neurological training programs. The new hospital and the growth of neurology will touch the lives of many people locally and will transform UF into an international destination for those suffering from neurological diseases.”
Okun is the medical adviser for Tyler’s Hope for a Dystonia Cure and the co-chair of the medical advisory board for the Tourette Syndrome Association, and he has been the national medical director for the National Parkinson Foundation for 10 years. Okun was honored at the White House this year as a Champion of Change for Parkinson’s disease.
“Dr. Okun’s involvement in these patient organizations demonstrates the culture of leadership we have at UF Health,” said Ed Jimenez, chief executive officer for UF Health Shands. “With the opening of the UF Health Neuromedicine Hospital in 2018, this leadership will be critical.”
Okun currently holds the Adelaide Lackner professorship in neurology and has published more than 300 peer-reviewed articles. He is author of the bestseller “Parkinson’s Treatment: 10 Secrets to a Happier Life,” the recently released book “10 Breakthrough Therapies for Parkinson’s Disease” and a book of poetry, “Lessons from the Bedside.” He is an associate editor for The New England Journal of Medicine Journal Watch and has served as a reviewer for more than 25 medical journals.
A graduate of the UF College of Medicine, where he also completed an internship and neurology residency, Okun trained at Emory University in basal ganglia physiology and movement disorders surgery. He returned to UF in 2002.