Neurosurgeon G. Rees Cosgrove, MD: Close to His Roots
Even though he’s acquired a whole slew of titles—inaugural chair of the department of neurosurgery at the Warren Alpert Medical School, chief of neurosurgery at Rhode Island Hospital and The Miriam Hospital—in many ways G. Rees Cosgrove hasn’t changed much since he was a boy. The son of a neurologist who worked under Wilder Penfield, the first director of McGill University's world-famous Montreal Neurological Institute (MNI), Cosgrove was weaned on neurology and the neurosciences and experienced the MNI himself on many levels: first as an orderly, then as a research assistant, and, finally, as a neurosurgical trainee.
The Institute not only incorporated beds for patients suffering from neurological diseases, but also several floors within the same building that looked at the basic science of these illnesses: “So, I’ve always been in a world where we are both taking care of patients and asking questions of the science. This is the model that we would like to, in some ways, re-create at Brown.”
Cosgrove, who arrived at the University in June 2010 via the Lahey Clinic in Burlington, Massachusetts and, before that, from the Harvard Medical School, had heard about the multidisciplinary Brown Institute for Brain Science (BIBS) before he came on board. Yet, he wasn’t quite prepared for what he found: clinicians and neuroscientists having intimate and very detailed conversations about everything from the human brain’s functions to mechanisms of disease in the brain. “It is unique; it really happens on a daily basis,” said Cosgrove. “There’s so much intellect, drive, and passion here, and so many people taking advantage of the opportunities that are present.”
There's so much intellect, drive, and passion here.
—G. Rees Cosgrove, MD
One particular example comes to mind: a young woman who had been experiencing seizures for most of her life; at least once a week, sometimes every day. “Now, from a patient’s perspective, a seizure is awful, a dramatic event that’s uncontrolled and is completely disabling. From a neurologist’s perspective, a seizure is an electrical discharge within the brain that we try to control with medicines. They hadn’t worked with her. Using my perspective, a surgeon’s, we put electrodes right on her brain to understand where the seizures were coming from. When we removed the abnormal area, the young woman was cured.”
But that isn’t all. Using information from electrodes like those implanted in the young woman’s brain, researchers are determining not only what happens in the brain when a seizure occurs, but also what happens within individual nerve cells, at the nerve cell membrane.
“The human brain is too complex and neuroscience is too complex for one person to be able to do it all,” says Cosgrove. “You can’t solve the problem at the level of the problem. It requires expertise at multiple levels—like we have here with BIBS—and perspectives that, when combined, can tackle these problems. I am so happy to be here; it is such an incredibly rich environment. The infrastructure is working extremely well. Now, we need to extend it and to amplify it with additional support.”
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