- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 25, 2007

BALTIMORE (AP) — Dr. Hugo Wolfgang Moser, a neurologist whose work with a rare disorder was depicted in the 1992 movie “Lorenzo’s Oil,” died Jan. 20 at Johns Hopkins Hospital, where he was undergoing treatment for pancreatic cancer. He was 82.

Dr. Moser researched childhood mental retardation and advocated testing all newborns for the condition known as adrenoleukodystrophy, or ALD.

His professional posts included director of the Neurogenetics Research Center at the Kennedy Krieger Institute and professor of neurology and pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

“Hugo was really one of the giants of neurology,” said Dr. Douglas Kerr, a professor of neurology at the Hopkins medical school. “He’s trained countless neurologists, and I’d consider him a model of how we all want to do neurology.”

By the 1980s, Dr. Moser and his wife were working to develop a screening technique that would enable detection of ALD at birth.

The rare disease is caused by a genetic mutation that leads to the accumulation in cells of substances called very long chain fatty acids. That damages the myelin, the material that coats nerve fibers in the brain. The myelin damage is irreversible and causes the neurological system to break down.

Born in Bern, Switzerland, Dr. Moser spent his early childhood in Berlin, where his father, Hugo L. Moser, was an art dealer, and his mother, Maria, was an actress. He considered becoming a concert pianist, but early on switched to science.

His family fled Nazi Germany in 1933 and lived in Heemstede, Netherlands. In 1940, they crossed France, Italy and Spain and finally embarked to Cuba before obtaining visas to reach New York. He attended Harvard College from 1942 to 1943, and left to enter military service.

He received his medical degree from Columbia University in 1948.

The most common form of ALD is the childhood cerebral form. In “Lorenzo’s Oil,” actors Nick Nolte and Susan Sarandon portrayed the relentless efforts of Augusto and Michaela Odone to find treatments for their son, Lorenzo. Dr. Moser was portrayed in the movie by Peter Ustinov.

A Hopkins publication described Lorenzo as “a bright, exuberant 5-year-old who went into a sudden, shocking decline” as damage to myelin left him unable to walk, see and hear. Lorenzo, now 28, can hear, his father said.

The parents were often at odds with doctors unconvinced about the effectiveness of a treatment made from olive and rapeseed oils. The compound was patented by Mr. Odone and is considered experimental by the Food and Drug Administration.

Mr. Odone, 74, credited Dr. Moser with being more receptive than most other physicians.

“Unlike other doctors, who did not believe in Lorenzo’s Oil, Dr. Moser kept an open mind,” Mr. Odone said Monday from his home in Fairfax.

Dr. Moser published a study in 2005, based on research with 84 boys treated at Kennedy Krieger, showing that Lorenzo’s Oil can prevent onset of the disease’s symptoms for most boys who receive a diagnosis of ALD. The disease is passed from mothers to sons.

Survivors include his wife, Ann Boody Moser, who was his longtime research partner; three daughters, Tracey Schecht of Austin, Texas, Karen Levin of West Chester, Pa., and Lauren Moser of Bethesda; and four grandsons. A son, Peter Brigham Moser, died in 1992. An earlier marriage to Monti Lou Brigham ended in divorce.

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