John H. Menkes, MD
Member Since 1965
Beverly Hills, CA
Date of Death November 22, 2008

John H. Menkes, MD a renowned child neurologist who first identified the genetic disorder of copper metabolism that became known as “Menkes disease” and established the pediatric neurology program at the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA) died on November 22, in Los Angeles. He was 79.

Dr. Menkes was born in Vienna in 1928 and with his family moved to Ireland during his childhood and later to Los Angeles. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in organic chemistry at the University of California. He earned his MD degree from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in 1952. Dr. Menkes completed his internship at Children’s Medical Center in Boston, a pediatric residency at Bellevue Hospital in New York City, and his pediatric neurology residency at the Neurological Institute of New York of Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center.

In 1951, while Dr. Menkes was an intern at Boston Children’s Hospital, he first encountered an infant with what later came to be known as Menkes’ syndrome 1. He prepared the first comprehensive description of the extremely rare disorder, but it wasn’t until much later while he was a resident at the New York Neurological Institute that he obtained another sample of the urine and did the biochemistry himself, identifying the enzyme detect. The X-linked syndrome is caused by the lack of an enzyme that is essential in the metabolism of copper; the disorder is characterized by growth retardation as well as focal cerebral and cerebellar degeneration. In the 1950s, Dr. Menkes saw an infant who appeared normal at birth but later developed hypotonia and seizures, and had coarse, brittle hair. Dr. Menkes and his colleagues in 1962 published an article about five infant boys in the same family with a distinctive genetic syndrome known as kinky hair disease or Menkes syndrome 2 because he was the first to identify it.

Dr. Menkes served as head of pediatric neurology at the Johns Hopkins Hospital before joining UCLA in 1966 where he spent more that 30 years in the new division of pediatric neurology which he started.

In 1974 he entered private practice but ten years later returned to UCLA as professor of neurology and pediatrics. In 1997 he became director of pediatric neurology at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

Dr. Menkes served as the Dystonia Medical Research Foundation’s first medical and scientific director. Dr. Menkes was a member of the Forum for Vaccine Safety and the National Institute of Medicine and the editorial boards of Continuum, the Bulletin of Clinical Neuroscience, and the Emirates Medical Journal. He was a prolific author, publishing more than 100 journal articles, 50 book chapters, and the seminal Textbook of Child Neurology, now in its seventh edition, which since 1974 has been a standard textbook in the field.

“The world of pediatric neurology lost an icon and one of its contemporary fathers, and the World at large lost a true Renaissance Man –physician; scientist; playwright; philosopher; connoisseur of good literature, art, music, and food; humanist and liberal thinker who deplored discrimination, intolerance, prejudices, and false values of all types,” said Harvey B. Sarnat, MD, professor of pediatrics, pathology (neuropathology), and clinical neurosciences at the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada, who has known Dr. Menkes since 1975 and co-authored the sixth edition of Textbook of Child Neurology with him. “I personally miss him greatly and remember him fondly.”

Dr. Menkes also wrote several novels and plays based on his experiences as an expert witness for the plaintiffs in trials involving damages caused by vaccines, including The Angry Puppet Syndrome (1999).

Excerpted with permission from the American Academy of Neurology from
“Distinguished Pediatric Neurologist John H. Menkes, MD, Dies at 79,”
by Elizabeth Stump, Neurology Today, January 2, 2009, 9(1):3-4.
Added 10/20/10