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Renowned neurobiologist to lead premier neuroscience research institute

Marc Freeman, Ph.D., a former Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and a fast-rising star in the field of biology, will direct the Oregon Health & Science University Vollum Institute. The institute is widely recognized as a center of excellence for its pioneering research in molecular neuroscience, synaptic physiology and cellular signaling related to nervous system function. These discoveries have significantly increased our understanding of autism, epilepsy, drug addiction and neurodegenerative disease.

Freeman’s remarkable career has been fueled by discoveries that fundamentally changed our understanding of the brain: His lab was the first to describe a gene (dSarm/Sarm1) responsible for driving the degeneration of axons – the long nerve fibers that link neurons to one another or to muscle cells – after brain injury. By identifying that gene, Freeman’s lab paved the way for the development of potentially life-changing therapies for patients with a wide range of neurodegenerative conditions.

“It’s the most exciting time ever to be in neuroscience. In the last decade, the number of tools available to manipulate individual cells and circuits has exploded. It’s an extraordinary opportunity to be a part of the Vollum’s remarkable faculty and help facilitate discoveries that enrich the vibrant neuroscience community at OHSU and beyond,” said Freeman. “The Vollum’s history of fundamental discoveries in basic neuroscience is unique and widely appreciated in the field. My excitement for engaging with this amazing group of scientists is borne out by the fact that, even before joining, I was collaborating with the current director Dick Goodman on projects exploring the biochemical basis of axon degeneration after brain trauma.”

Freeman carried out his doctoral training in the laboratory of John Carlson at Yale University where he obtained his Ph.D. in biology in 1999. Among his achievements are: being selected as a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Early Career Scientist (2009), appointed an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (2013), and receiving the Javits Neuroscience Investigator Award from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) of the National Institutes of Health.

“An astounding one in four people develop a neurological disorder at some time in their lives, and few treatments exist. We have to attack these challenging problems using multiple approaches. Neither translational nor basic neuroscience will be able to find cures on their own. We need both working together. OHSU recognizes that, and is committed to strengthening both sides of that equation. My role is to facilitate the outstanding basic neuroscience taking place here and strengthen interactions between basic and translational researchers because all of these discoveries inevitably inform us about disease,” said Freeman.

“We’re thrilled that Dr. Freeman will lead the Vollum Institute as it sets its sights on achieving the neuroscience breakthroughs that will continue to set it apart in the coming decades. His incredible discoveries and leadership will ensure the Vollum continues to play a crucial role in cutting-edge neuroscience research that drives biomedical discovery, which has helped put OHSU on the map,” said Dan Dorsa, Ph.D., senior vice president for research at OHSU.

A generous gift from the Vollum family for advanced molecular biology created the Vollum Institute. The family and estate of Howard Vollum, one of the founders of Tektronix who died in 1986, established an endowment that helps sustain the Vollum Institute.

“Our father’s gift creating the Vollum Institute was rooted in the hope that this research institute would bring together the best scientists who were brave enough to forge forward with unlocking the secrets of the human brain,” said Steve Vollum on behalf of the Vollum family. “Our family is excited that the Vollum Institute continues to scale to new heights and holds so much promise for further advancing our foundational knowledge about the brain, which will lead to new, more effective treatments for human disease.”

Freeman is expected to join OHSU in July 2016. Most recently, Freeman served as professor and vice chair of the Department of Neurobiology at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

Richard Goodman, M.D., Ph.D., served as the director of the Vollum Institute for the past 25 years. During that time, he helped transform the Vollum into a leading research institute and built a culture of excellence. Goodman will continue to serve as a senior scientist at the institute and pursue his research into mechanisms underlying gene regulation.

Vollum Institute Honors and Awards:
Vollum faculty scientists have received the following honors:

  • Eight have been elected to the National Academy of Sciences (the highest honor a scientist can receive in the U.S.)
  • Two are Institute of Medicine members
  • Two are members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
  • Five received support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute
  • Five have received NIH Director's Transformational, Innovator, or Early Investigator awards


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