Dr. Rita Cowell, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Neurobiology, has been awarded a five-year grant from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) to investigate how certain neurons and brain regions are affected in Huntington Disease (HD). HD is a devastating neurological disorder involving progressive deterioration of psychiatric and motor function over a period of years, leading to death. While the genetic basis for HD is known, there are no effective therapies available. With this funding from NINDS, Dr. Cowell’s lab will investigate cellular pathways that control the function and survival of specific neurons in the brain in animal models of HD, with the goal of identifying novel targets for the treatment of patients. Other work from the Cowell lab suggests that these same cellular pathways are disrupted in schizophrenia, and her lab will be trying to determine whether the psychiatric symptoms that HD patients suffer from (like psychosis and depression) can be explained by the changes in the functioning of these pathways. Local co-investigators/consultants on the grant include Dr. Peter Detloff (Genetics), Dr. Lynn Dobrunz (Neurobiology), and Dr. Mathieu Lesort (Psychiatry). An article describing the research that formed the basis for the grant is currently in press at the Journal of Neuroscience.
Dr. Cowell completed her bachelor of science in Biology at the University of Illinois in 1997 and her PhD in Neuroscience at the University of Michigan in 2002. In September 2006, she joined the lab of Dr. James Meador-Woodruff at UAB as an Assistant Professor after finishing a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Michigan. In June 2008, she was granted her own lab space on the newly renovated 7th floor of the Sparks Building. Dr. Cowell is happy to be part of such a vibrant and collaborative neuroscience community.