Penny Pennington, MAS portrait.

Penny Pennington

Expertise and Generosity

By Ann Whitcher Gentzke

Penny Pennington can often be found sitting at her computer in the evenings, poring over scientific papers and reading emails from multiple sclerosis (MS) researchers while her two Vizsla dogs, Bogart and Mitchell, vie for her attention.

Pennington has been studying MS since 1977, when she experienced sensory symptoms in her legs along with optic neuritis resulting in temporary loss of vision in one eye. She was poised to graduate from the University of Maryland with a BS in biochemistry and animal science and had early admission to the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. Although the symptoms went into remission, she had a relapse the following year and was formally diagnosed with MS, which led her to reevaluate her career goals.

Instead of entering vet school, Pennington earned a master’s in administrative science from Johns Hopkins and was recruited by Merck to work in health economics. Her career there included management of clinical trial liaisons and 15 years as director of federal healthcare affairs in Washington, D.C. During that time, her MS kept a “fairly benign course” as she commuted from Washington to Buffalo, where she had met David Bartlett, whom she married in 1989. In 2017, Bartlett died.

Pennington says she was fortunate to be able to retire early, particularly since her MS sensory symptoms were becoming more frequent. Although her symptoms have not progressed to other areas, she says that “there are periods when I am dealing with chronic pain.”

In retirement, Pennington has put her public-policy and research expertise to work by helping to evaluate legislation for the National MS Society and participate in their Research Program Advisory Committee meetings. She also gives her time and expertise to the Buffalo Neuroimaging Analysis Center (BNAC) in UB’s Department of Neurology, where she is a past chair and a current member of the center’s advisory council. At the BNAC, which is an internationally recognized leader in MS research, the scientists have been open to and interested in exploring areas of research that council members have proposed, Pennington says.

Pennington also works closely with faculty in the Department of Neurology’s clinical arm, the Jacobs MS Center, where she is a patient of Bianca Weinstock-Guttman, MD, professor of neurology in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and a world-renowned researcher.

In 2013, Pennington’s volunteer efforts took on new momentum when she met Pamela Jacobs, wife of the late pioneering MS researcher, Lawrence Jacobs, MD, professor and chair of neurology at UB. The two women helped form ARMS—Advancing Research in MS—which supports research that advances understanding of the illness.

In addition to her service and advocacy, Pennington has named UB as a beneficiary of her retirement account in support of MS research in the Department of Neurology and has made numerous outright contributions to MS research at UB.

Pennington’s dedication and generosity are all the more notable—and appreciated—given that her professional background enables her to discern the “exceptional” quality of treatment she receives and the “high level of innovative research” she helps to guide in UB’s Department of Neurology.

“Buffalo Neuroimaging Analysis Center is thankful for the many contributions that Penny has made over the years,” says Robert Zivadinov, MD, PhD, professor of neurology and director of the center. “Her efforts as a volunteer and her support as a donor have—and will continue to have—a direct impact on what we have accomplished. In particular, her effort to assure that patients’ voices are heard has led to new, productive avenues of research.”