Friends, Family Celebrate Dr. Mary Bartlett Bunge, a True Legend in Neuroscience

Dr. Mary Bartlett Bunge in a lab with a colleague
Dr. Mary Bartlett Bunge (left) with husband Dr. Richard Bunge, former scientific director of The Miami Project.

Family, friends and colleagues from around the world gathered on June 7 at the Lois Pope LIFE Center to celebrate Mary Bartlett Bunge, Ph.D., professor emeritus of cell biology, neurological surgery and neurology. 

Dr. Bunge was an important member of The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis scientific community and the University of Miami for more than 30 years. Her work and contributions significantly impacted The Miami Project’s scientific and educational programs.

Many of the outstanding investigators who worked with Dr. Bunge over the years attended in person or virtually. Through their association with Dr. Bunge, they contributed to the field of regenerative medicine and Schwann cell biology.

From left, Dr. Barth Green, Jon Bunge and Dr. W. Dalton Dietrich at memorial celebration.
From left, Dr. Barth Green, Dr. Bartlett’s son, Jon Bunge, and Dr. W. Dalton Dietrich.

Welcome remarks were given by W. Dalton Dietrich, Ph.D., scientific director of The Miami Project, co-director of the Institute for Neural Engineering and professor of neurological surgery, neurology, biomedical engineering and cell biology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. Dr. Dietrich shared how “Dr. Mary,” as she was affectionately known, was a pioneer and strong advocate for scientific discovery and promoting women in neuroscience.

Barth Green, M.D., chairman and co-founder of The Miami Project, said of the celebration, “Today is a big present for all of us to celebrate Dr. Mary Bunge. Mary affected the field of neuroscience and the future of women in neuroscience. She led the charge to make sure that women could enter the field of neuroscience and excel.”

Allan Levi, M.D., Ph.D., clinical director of The Miami Project and professor and chair of neurological surgery at the Miller School, studied under Dr. Bunge and her husband, Richard Bunge, Ph.D. Dr. Levi shared how Dr. Mary was “a woman of incredible integrity and humility. She broke the glass ceiling before we knew there was one. I came here because of Mary and Dick and the family they created.”

Colleagues spoke about the impact of Dr. Bunge and her research, including Jeffrey Milbrandt, M.D., Ph.D., from Washington University, who spoke about Schwann cell metabolism and axon support. He was followed by Elizabeth Bradbury, Ph.D., from Kings College of London, who discussed spinal cord repair from models and mechanisms to humans.

Former student James Guest, M.D., Ph.D., clinical professor of neurological surgery at the Miller School and The Miami Project, presented a historical overview of Dr. Mary Bunge’s and Dr. Richard Bunge’s work. Sandra Lemmon, Ph.D. a longtime friend and collaborator, shared Dr. Bunge’s commitment to supporting women in science.

Many friends and family offered poignant memories, videos and messages prior to a celebratory tea. A Friday afternoon gathering with tea and sweets hosted by Dr. Bunge and her husband was a staple of Dr. Bunge’s lab life and an opportunity to share the week’s accomplishments and promote collaboration and camaraderie.

University of Miami professor emeritus Mary Bartlett Bunge
Dr. Mary Bartlett Bunge

Dr. Bunge received many national and international honors during her career, including the Wakeman Award for Research in the Neurosciences, and she was a three-time recipient of the Javits Neuroscience Investigator Award from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. She served as chair of the Society for Neuroscience Development of Women’s Careers in Neuroscience Committee from 1994 to 2002.

In 2000, she received the Mika Salpeter Lifetime Achievement Award for her leadership in advancing the careers of women in neuroscience. In 2001, she received the Christopher Reeve Research Medal for Spinal Cord Injury Repair. She was elected to the National Academy of Medicine and was awarded the Health Care Hero Lifetime Achievement Award by the Greater Miami Chapter Chamber of Commerce.

Dr. Bunge also received the Christine Lynn Distinguished Professor in Neuroscience Award in 2003 and the Lois Pope LIFE International Research Award in 2005. Upon receiving this award, she donated the money to the University of Miami to establish a lecture series to bring prominent women researchers doing groundbreaking work in cell biology to Miami. In 2012, Dr. Bunge received the University of Miami Faculty Senate Distinguished Faculty Scholar Award. The American Spinal Injury Association awarded the Bunges the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2018.

On February 6, just days before her death, Dr. Bunge listened to the 19th Annual Mary Bartlett Bunge Distinguished Women in Cell Biology Lecture, demonstrating that her enduring passion for science remained with her until the end.

Dr. Bunge trained graduate and postdoctoral fellows who went on to become leaders in the fields of cell biology, neuroscience and Schwann cell transplantation. She will be greatly missed by everyone who knew her and had the privilege of learning from this special scholar who contributed so much to her scientific field, The Miami Project and the University of Miami.

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