Board Spotlight: Dr. Christopher Earley

July 26, 2023 Board Spotlight: Dr. Christopher Earley By Adrianna Colucci, RLS Foundation Administrative Assistant Christopher J. E...

July 26, 2023

Board Spotlight: Dr. Christopher Earley

By Adrianna Colucci, RLS Foundation Administrative Assistant

Christopher J. Earley, MB, BCh, PhD, FRCPI, is both a professor of neurology at the renowned Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and the director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Restless Legs Syndrome, a certified RLS Quality Care Center in Baltimore. Among various other achievements, he is also chair of the RLS Foundation’s Scientific and Medical Advisory Board (SMAB). Dr. Earley’s devotion to neurology and sleep medicine for over 30 years has made him widely acclaimed, particularly for his research and expertise in managing RLS. His commitment was recognized in 2017 when he received the RLS Foundation’s prestigious Ekbom Award.

Q. When did you initially discover the RLS Foundation, and how did you become involved?

A. I believe the year was 1992. Dr. Art Walters, my colleague Dr. Richard Allen and I met with Pickett Guthrie in Washington, DC. This was right around the time Mrs. Guthrie formed the idea of establishing an RLS Foundation. By the time it was fully formed, I was an active member of the Scientific and Medical Advisory Board. I eventually became chair of the Scientific and Medical Advisory Board, and am currently in my fourth year and second term as chair.

Q. As chair of the Scientific and Medical Advisory Board, can you describe some of your responsibilities?

A. As chair, I primarily maintain an advisory role, assisting those who maintain the daily functions of the Foundation. I am responsible for the final review of any newly revised medical publications, alongside other members of the SMAB, as well as for suggesting new topics of clinical importance. More generally, I have oversight of ongoing initiatives within the SMAB, including communication with the RLS Foundation Brain Bank, reviewing grants and advising the Board on public health issues. I am actively involved in contributing to the educational components of the Foundation such as the monthly webinar series, the Virtual Summit, the National Patient Symposium and the Public Policy Initiative.

Q. Throughout your educational and professional achievements, what inspired your special interest in RLS research?

A. “Serendipitous” comes to mind. When I began working at Johns Hopkins, I was initially set to design and run the acute stroke program, which I did for numerous years. Part of my responsibilities included working in the sleep clinic where sleep research was in its earlier stages. About three years prior, carbidopa/levodopa had begun to be prescribed for RLS, so we were seeing many RLS patients with signs of augmentation. Some of the very first RLS patients I treated were augmented, so I became heavily involved with research relating to dopamine agonists and this side effect. We started to develop a reputation for treating RLS, and after about 10 years I became involved full-time with the sleep clinic. I am now the director of the certified RLS Quality Care Center at Johns Hopkins.

Q. What accomplishments or successes are you most proud of from your involvement with the SMAB?

A. One of the important accomplishments I’ve witnessed throughout my involvement is helping to establish an identity and a direction for the RLS Foundation. When Karla Dzienkowski became the executive director, she asked me to become chair of the SMAB. This was an opportunity to work with someone who was passionate about developing clear objectives and upholding the values of the Foundation. I am proud to have played a small role in successfully building and strengthening the organization, which is truly the only hope for some RLS patients.

Q. What are some of the established goals the SMAB has in the foreseeable future?

A. We would like to increase the availability of grants for those who are doing research in areas pertinent to what we believe contributes to the pathophysiology of RLS. I consider this one of my primary roles moving forward. The second goal we have set is to advance our educational outreach to a larger audience. It is imperative to reach not just the neurologists and sleep specialists, but also the primary care physicians to educate them on the clinical and scientific aspects of RLS. While we have made great strides, there is still more work to be done.

Q. Beyond RLS, you are also published in endocrinology and internal medicine. Do you find that your research intersects and if so, in what way?

A. My PhD was involved with the endocrine system, looking at behaviors and brain chemistry. My first eight to 10 years at Johns Hopkins included stroke research; however, my broadest interest was focused on sleep medicine – trying to get a more in-depth understanding of sleep-wake biology and clinical indications. There is great depth to sleep research and understanding the true biological nature of sleep, such as why we sleep and the value of sleep. The framework of RLS research exists within the framework of sleep biology. I am extremely proud of the progress made by many of our researchers on the RLS Foundation SMAB to unlock the mysteries of RLS and find better treatments.

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