Ronald Cowan, M.D., Ph.D.
Ronald Cowan, M.D., Ph.D., studies the role of brain monoamines in mood and reward system function with the goal of understanding addictive disorders including substance abuse and overeating behavior resulting in obesity. The lab is currently utilizing neuroimaging, genetic analysis, and cognitive neuroscience to study the effects of the putative selective serotonin neurotoxin, MDMA (Ecstasy), on the brain's structure, function, and chemical composition. The lab studies the neural substrates of reward function, including the neural basis of dysphoria and euphoria using functional neuroimaging during substance-induced mood changes. In addition, several projects investigate the neurobiology of obesity, using food cues, disgust cues, and attention measures to assess reward system function in obesity. Dr. Cowan's explorations of monoamines in the context of reward function and addictoin are rooted in his belief that the interaction between modern societal structure and the ancient, largely automatic brain processes influenced by monoamine systems are the basis for many contemporary social problems such as mood and addictive disorders.
We would like to thank the following organizations for their generous research support:
Evonne J. Charboneau, M.S., J.D., M.D., MSCI
Research Assistant Professor of Psychiatry
Dr. Charboneau joined the Cowan Lab in 2006 to complete a Medical Scholars year. She completed a NIDA T32 training fellowship in 2009 and also received her Masters in Clinical Investigation in 2009. She is currently a member of the Vanderbilt faculty as a Research Assistant Professor of Psychiatry. Dr. Charboneau is interested in the neurobiology of addiction. She directs the child obesity neuroimaging studies in the Cowan Lab, using a reward system dysfunction approach to examine brain changes in response to food cues in obese children.
Mary Dietrich, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Psychiatry
Dr. Dietrich works closely with the Cowan Lab to provide advanced biostatistical consultation on all grants and manuscripts. Her research interests include statistical methods of bridging the psychological, sociological, and biological sciences; measuring and modeling human developmental systems; and prevention of infant/child maltreatment.
J. Gavin Lillevig, B.S.
Gavin joined the Cowan Lab in the summer of 2008 after completing a Bachelors of Science degree in Human and Organizational Development at Vanderbilt University. Gavin oversees subject recruitment, data management systems, IRB compliance and documentation, and fMRI data analysis and quality control. He also contributes to the mentoring of undergraduate students, specifically in the areas of basic statistics, data management, and fMRI analysis. His research interests include MDMA effects on Serotonergic neurophysiology, the neurobiology of Oxytocin acting as a neuromodulator in other monoamine systems, and the neurobiology of social reward and group joining. Outside the Cowan Lab, Gavin continues his career as a violinist in the Paducah Symphony Orchestra in Paducah, KY. Gavin plans to pursue a career in academic medicine.
Aize Cao, Ph.D.
Dr. Cao is a neuroimaging analyst jointly appointed at the VUIIS and the Psychiatric Neuroimaging Program. Aize provides critical expertise in structural and functional neuroimaging analysis methods. She collaborates closely with the Cowan Lab to ensure data integrity, artifact reduction, and quality control.
Erin joined the Cowan Lab in 2009 as an Emphasis student. Erin is currently a second year medical student at Vanderbilt. Her research project consists of using fMRI to examine the effects of MDMA use on brain activation during attention and cognitive processing.
John joined the lab in 2008 as an Emphasis student. He is currently a 3rd year medical student at Vanderbilt.
Undergraduate Student/Research Assistant
Brian joined the Cowan Lab in the summer of 2009 as a part-time Research Assistant. Brian assists with the child obesity research program.
Brian joined the Cowan lab in May of 2007 as part of the Emphasis Program. He is now a 4th year medical student and is working on a voxel-based morphometry analysis of the effects of MDMA on brain volume. He received a B.S. in Biology from the University of Alabama at Birmingham in 2006. His main interests include neuroscience and evolution.
James joined the lab in May 2007 as part of the Emphasis program. James' project focuses on the influence of allelic variations in the serotonin transporter on serotonin 2A receptor expression in healthy humans. He graduated from The University of Pittsburgh with a B.S. in Chemistry and Neuroscience. He is currently a fourth year medical student at Vanderbilt. He is interested in all things neuroscience.
Amy Bauernfeind, B.S.
Amy joined the Cowan lab as a research assistant in February '05 after having graduated from Vanderbilt University in 2004 with a degree in Neuroscience. Amy is currently a graduate student in Biological Anthropology at George Washington University.
Emily Castellanos, M.D.
Emily joined the Cowan lab under Vanderbilt's Medical Scholars Program in July 2007. Her project examined the role of visual incentive salience for food cues in obesity. Emily's results were published in the International Journal of Obesity. Originally from Huntsville, Emily went out west to Stanford for college and enjoyed being back in the south for medical school. When not studying fMRI, she enjoys cooking, running, or hiking in the Tennessee foothills. Emily received her M.D. in 2009 and is a resident physician in Internal Medicine at Vanderbilt.
Han Liang, B.S., M.B.A., M.D.
Han joined the Cowan lab in June of '03 with a medical scholar research award. His main research interest was the functional study of MDMA's effects on the neocortex. Han's other research focus is on the adaptation of applications which will integrate Evidence-Based Medicine practices at the point of care for mental health professionals. Han completed a joint MD/MBA degree at Vanderbilt, graduating in May 2005. He entered a residency in Adult Psychiatry and plans to complete a fellowship in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Growing up in San Diego, Han completed his undergraduate degree at the University of California, San Diego.
Junghee Lee, B.A., M.A., Ph.D.
Junghee Lee worked with the Cowan lab when she was a 5th year graduate student working with Dr. Sohee Park as her faculty mentor in the Clinical Neuroscience Laboratory, Department of Psychology at Vanderbilt University. Her research interests include the efficiency of information processing, attention and working memory using behavioral paradigms and neuroimaging methods. Junghee's long-term goal is to understand this process in relation to individual differences, psychopathology and emotional processes. Junghee collaborated with the Cowan Lab to assist in functional neuroimaging data analysis and study design on semantic and visual processing in MDMA users. Dr. Junghee Lee is currently a postdoctoral fellow in Michael Green's Lab at UCLA. She earned her Bachelor's and Master's degrees in Psychology from Seoul National University in Korea, and her Doctorate from Vanderbilt University in Tennessee. Her dissertation projects have focused on the role of contextual modulation in, and the biological mechanisms of, working memory deficits in schizophrenia. This research used both behavioral and neuroimaging methods such as fMRI, near-infrared spectroscopy and diffusion tensor imaging. Her long-term goal of research is to understand the nature of cognitive abnormalities in schizophrenia, their biological mechanisms and how they are related to the perceptual, emotional, and social cognitive deficits of the illness. Her focus will include both behavioral and neuroimaging methods.
Kim Morton, B.S.N., R.N.
Kim Morton, B.S.N., R.N., joined The Cowan Lab in August 2004. She coordinated the clinical and regulatory activities of The Cowan Lab. Kim graduated from the University of Michigan School of Nursing in 1999. Her research interests include the evolutionary basis of mood disorders. Kim credits her family, particularly her father and her grandfather, for her career in clinical research. Kim contributed greatly to the early success of the lab, using her extensive experience in clinical trials research to structure and organize the lab's clinical research programs. Kim currently works for a research venture capital fund.
Eiman Shafa, B.S., M.D.
Eiman joined the Cowan lab as a research assistant in June '04 after graduating from Vanderbilt University's Undergraduate School of Arts and Sciences with a concentration in Neuroscience. He was involved in subject recruitment and result analysis. While not behind the computer, he is busy playing soccer, climbing, or swimming. An eager entrepreneur, Eiman is often rescuing small business ventures! Eiman is currently a fourth year medical student at Temple University School of Medicine in Philadelphia, PA.
Ning Xu, B.S., M.S., Ph.D.
Ning began collaborating with The Cowan Lab in December 2004. He arrived in the United States from China in 2002. Ning completed his dissertation in Dr. J. Michael Fitzpatrick's Medical Image Processing Lab within the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. Ning's research interests are medical image processing, MR image distortion correction, and fMRI image analysis.