Fredrick John Seil, MD (1933-2023)

Fredrick John Seil, MD was born on November 9, 1933 of German parentage in the town
of Neu Schowe (Nove Sove) in the former Yugoslavia (now Ravno Selo, Serbia). He
emigrated with his family to the United States in March of 1938. The first four years in
the USA were spent in Marysville, Ohio, where Dr. Seil began his formal education. The
family subsequently moved to Cleveland, Ohio. While a student at Willson Junior High
School and a member of Boy Scout Troop 113, Dr. Seil was offered a scholarship to
Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts after a competition among Boy Scout
troops in Cleveland. After graduation from Andover in 1952, Dr. Seil martriculated to
Oberlin College as a premedical major. He married a classmate, Daryle Faith Wolfers,
on July 2, 1955, a year prior to their graduation from Oberlin. Best man at the wedding
was Frank M. Yatsu, a friend since junior high school and a fellow Andover scholarship
recipient. After receiving their AB degrees in 1956, the couple headed west where
Fredrick Seil attended the Stanford University School of Medicine. The MD degree was
conferred in 1960, after which Dr. Seil spent a year at the Kaiser Foundation Hospital in
San Francisco as a rotating intern. He returned to Stanford as a resident in Neurology,
finishing in 1964. He remained at Stanford for another year as a National Institutes of
Health fellow in Electroencephalography and Neuropathology. NIH fellowship support
continued in 1965 for training in nerve tissue culture at the Mt. Sinai Hospital in New
York and subsequently at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and the Columbia
University College of Physicians and Surgeons. In 1966 Dr. Seil was drafted into the U.
S. Army Medical Corps and assigned to the Neuropathology Branch of the Armed Forces
Institute of Pathology in Washington, DC. While there, Dr. Seil divided his time between
clinical Neuropathology at the AFIP and research using nerve tissue culture methodology
at the NIH in Bethesda, Maryland. At the NIH Dr. Seil began a series of studies dealing
with antimyelin antibodies and their relationship to experimental and clinical
demyelinating disorders such as multiple sclerosis.
After discharge from the U.S. Army in 1968, Dr. Seil returned to Stanford as a junior
faculty member. He established a tissue culture laboratory at the Palo Alto VA Medical
Center, where he continued with studies of antimyelin antibodies. He also initiated a
series of studies of anatomical and developmental features of cerebellar and cerebral
neocortical cultures. In 1976 Dr. Seil moved his laboratory to the Portland, Oregon VA
Medical Center and joined the faculty of the Department of Neurology, newly chaired by
old friend Dr. Frank M. Yatsu, of what is now known as the Oregon Health & Science
University. In Oregon Dr. Seil continued work on myelin antigens and induction of
antimyelin antibodies and expanded his studies to include investigations on mechanisms
of circuit reorganization after injury. Studies in tissue cultures of circuit rerouting after
loss of some elements and reversal after addition of the missing elements became a major
focus of the laboratory for the next 22 years. Later inclusions were associated studies on
activity-dependent neuroplasticity, which were focused on the requirement for neural
activity for the full development of inhibitory circuitry.

In 1981, after national competition, Dr. Seil was appointed Director of the VA Office of
Regeneration Research Programs (ORRP), the purpose of which was to promote
regeneration research in the entire VA system. Although responsible to VA Central
Office in Washington, DC, the ORRP was located at the Portland, Oregon VA Medical
Center and funds were provided for its maintenance. Dr. Seil decided that one of the
better ways to promote regeneration research was to organize and support symposia on
regeneration research and to edit and publish a Regeneration Research Newsletter in
which symposium presentations were announced and summarized. After a small
symposium primarily on neural regeneration in Portland in 1981, a substantial
symposium on regeneration in multiple organ systems, co-sponsored by the VA and the
Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA), was held in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia in 1982.
With strong encouragement from the PVA, it was decided to emphasize the nervous
system in future symposia, to locate the symposia at a specific accessible site and to
invite speakers from other countries. The first of the International Symposia on Neural
Regeneration was held in 1985 at the Asilomar Conference Center in Pacific Grove,
California and additional sponsors were added, including the National Institutes of
Health. The symposia became a highly successful biennial event that continues to this
day. During Dr. Seil’s tenure as symposium director, which went through the 1999
symposium, the proceedings of all of the meetings except the 1997 symposium were
published in book form with Dr. Seil as editor or co-editor. As these symposia gathered
attention in Asia, but could not be attended by many Asians because of financial
constraints, Dr. Seil co-founded the Asia Pacific Symposium on Neural Regeneration, the
first of which was held in Hong Kong in 1998. Subsequent biennial symposia have been
held at various sites in Asia, including X’ian, China, Perth, Australia, Osaka, Japan and
Singapore, to name a few. The symposia in Asia dovetailed with the symposia at
Asilomar, occurring in opposite numbered years.
Although research was Dr. Seil’s major focus, he was also active in teaching clinical
Neurology to medical students and Neurology residents and in training fellows in nerve
tissue culture. Two of his fellows distinguished themselves, one by becoming Chief of
Neurology at the Portland VA Medical Center and the other by chairing the Department
of Neurology at the Oregon Health & Science University for 20 years. Dr. Seil was very
proud of both of their achievements.
Dr. Seil retired in July, 2001 but continued to attend professional meetings and write
reviews of work from his former laboratory. His wife of 50 years died of cancer in 2005.
In 2006 Dr. Seil moved to Berkeley, California to live with Ms. Lannon Leiman, widow
of Dr. Seil’s longtime research collaborator, Dr. Arnold Leiman. Dr. Seil ended his years
in Berkeley. He is survived by two sons, Jonathan F. Seil of Shelton, Washington and J.
P. Timothy Seil of Portland, Oregon, two grandchildren, and a sister Rose Brown of
Cleveland, Ohio and her family.