A lasting legacy

Bequest makes MD/PhD fellowship possible

James Harris’s interests in the brain and medicine began after his granfather suffered a series of strokes. “It’s always struck me that brain diseases are particularly tragic because someone’s personality, and really the core of what makes them, them, deteriorates,” Harris said.

In 2008, Harris graduated magna cum laude with honors in neuroscience from Bowdoin College in Maine, and moved to Boston to explore academic research. Like countless scientists who came before him, he prepared for his planned career by working as a research assistant.

He spent three years studying the clinical potential of nitric oxide on blood-forming stem cells, working in the labs of two HSCI Principal Faculty members, Trista North, PhD, at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and Wolfram Goessling, MD, PhD, at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

“It was just incredible to see work you had done in zebrafish at the bench be applied to patients who are sick in the hospital,” Harris said. The experience of seeing potential therapies developed from research on fish inspired him to enroll, in 2011, in both the Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology Program, and the Program in Neuroscience at Harvard Medical School.

Now in his third year of training, Harris was selected as the 2013-14 recipient of an HSCI fellowship made possible by a $1,500,000 bequest from Jack and Ruthe B. Cowl, specifically intended to support Harvard-MIT MD/PhD students pursuing stem cell science and its applications.

Currently, Harris is exploring different areas of research through lab rotations, and has just started in the lab of HSCI Principal Faculty member Paola Arlotta, PhD, in the Harvard Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology. He continues to be interested in the brain, particularly the clinical applications of understanding how the central nervous system develops. Although very young, he is an author on seven research articles, published in prestigious scientific journals including Cell and Cell Stem Cell.

“James Harris is a dedicated scientist who is personable, a good laboratory citizen, and driven to succeed in biological research,” Arlotta said. “As the past few years have shown, he is capable of groundbreaking work, which will advance science to new areas, and he will continue making great discoveries.“

Harris is already thinking about his future career plans. He hopes to do a residency in one of Harvard’s 17 affiliated health care institutions and, in the long term, to start his own lab dedicated to finding treatments for neurological diseases. “I think it’s a very exciting time for regenerative medicine, and neuroscience as well,” he said. “We’ve gotten better and better at diagnosing different disorders, but when it comes to treatment we’re still way behind where we should be.”