The McLean community grew a little larger when nationally recognized investigator Christopher Cowan, PhD, and his team from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School relocated to Belmont in 2012.
“Chris Cowan and his research team have made important contributions to the local, national and international science community. We wanted to recruit a top-notch neuroscientist whose work is groundbreaking and shows great potential for collaboration within McLean and Partners HealthCare,” said Joseph Coyle, MD, chief of the Center of Excellence in Basic Neuroscience. “Thanks to the generosity of National Council members Stephen and Cathy Graham, we were able to build state-of-the-art research space for Dr. Cowan and his team to continue to conduct their innovative research on the McLean campus.”
Cowan, who has published major papers in prestigious journals such as Neuron, Cell, Science and Nature Neuroscience, has hit the ground running since arriving with his nine-member team, whose work focuses on the molecules that control proper brain development and its normal function in the adult brain.
“McLean offered a fantastic opportunity for our team given the proximity to world-renowned clinical care programs. The ability to work bidirectionally with clinicians provides our team with a front-row view of human mental illness, something unavailable at nearly any other research institution,” said Cowan. “We are excited to establish the Integrative Neurobiology Laboratory (INL) at the Mailman Research Center and for potential collaborations with our new colleagues.”
According to Cowan, the INL is focused on identifying novel genes, proteins and molecular mechanisms that control proper brain wiring during development and on understanding the role of these basic processes in the young and adult brain under chronic pathological conditions such as drug addiction, depression and stress. The INL has two major research projects under way—a Simons Foundation-backed collaboration with Yale University looking to determine the role of autism-linked genes in early brain development and another to discover the links between brain development processes that influence the formation of maladaptive drug addiction behaviors.
“Dr. Cowan conducts innovative research delineating signaling pathways that underlie important processes in brain development and neuroplasticity,” said Scott L. Rauch, MD, president and psychiatrist in chief for McLean. “For example, his work with Yale contributed to the identification of a mutation that could lead to autism in some individuals. Results like these reinforce the importance of Dr. Cowan’s recruitment, ensuring that McLean continues to be at the forefront of mental health research.”