CNDD Leadership

Christopher Cowan, Ph.D.

Dr. Cowan serves as the Director of the CNDD. Currently, Dr. Cowan serves as Chair of the Department of Neuroscience and holds the SmartState Endowed Chair in Brain Imaging as a Professor in the Department of Neuroscience and Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. Dr. Cowan’s research focus is on the molecular mechanisms that regulate transcription- and translation-dependent processes that mediate behavioral and synaptic plasticity in the developing and mature brain. Dr. Cowan’s NIH-funded research lab focus on both neurodevelopmental disorders and substance use disorder, and it utilizes an integrated approach to study these disorders – spanning from genetics and epigenetics, cell and molecular biology, biochemistry, electrophysiology to complex behavioral analyses. His lab seeks to understand the function of NDD (define this) risk genes, such as MEF2C, FMR1, EPHB2, PCDH10, and others, in neurotypical development, and his group develops novel therapeutic approaches to treat NDD symptoms. Dr. Cowan runs a successful research laboratory funded by multiple NIH R01 grants, and he has been the Sponsor or co-Sponsor on numerous fellowships and career development awards. As Chair, Dr. Cowan manages the finances, administrative staff, and strategic vision for the department, comprised of 22 tenure-track and 11 research-track faculty members. The Department of Neuroscience consistently ranks in the top 20 for NIH-funded neuroscience department, in large part due to ~$10.5M/year in funding from NIDA and NIAAA and major strengths in substance use and neurodevelopmental disorders.

Associate Directors:
Laura Carpenter, Ph.D. (Associate Director for Clinical Research)
Dr. Carpenter is a Professor in the Departments of Pediatrics and Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at MUSC. She is a clinical psychologist with a productive program of research funded through both federal and foundation grants, and a strong record of success as a faculty mentor. Dr. Carpenter’s research focuses on various topics related to ASD, including ASD epidemiology, diagnosis, and treatment. Her team has made important contributions to our understanding of ASD epidemiology, as well as physical and mental health of individuals with ASD. Dr. Carpenter has extensive experience mentoring postdoctoral fellows and junior faculty and many of her former trainees are now independently funded in ASD-related research. Access to patient populations is important for the success of clinical research. To this end, Dr. Carpenter directs a busy ASD diagnostic clinic located within the Division of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics. The division is one of three designated Medicaid-funded Developmental Evaluation Centers in SC, and it has a catchment area covering roughly one-third of the state. The site serves a mix of rural, suburban, and urban areas with high levels of poverty throughout. She is also the Training Director for the MCHB/HRSA-funded South Carolina Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities (SC LEND) program. Drs. Cowan and Carpenter have worked closely together on several initiatives related to ASD research, and Dr. Carpenter brings a strong expertise in clinical diagnostic and treatment and research in ASD, ADHD, and other NDDs.

Stephen Tomlinson, Ph.D. (Associate Director for Basic Research)
Dr. Tomlinson is currently a Professor and acting Chair in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology. Dr. Tomlinson is an internationally recognized expert in the field of complement biology, and he has made important discoveries in how aberrant complement activation drives inflammation and injury in multiple diseases and injury states. An offshoot of this work has been the pioneering development of various types of site-targeted complement inhibitors, some of which are in clinical development. For the past several years his work has been focused on understanding how complement drives neuroinflammatory processes after brain injury, and more recently, how complement-dependent sequelae of brain injury impact neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative processes. He has been continuously funded in the field of complement research by the NIH since becoming an independent investigator in 1993, and also by the VA since becoming a VA Health Research Scientist in 2011. He has authored >185 papers, many in high-impact journals, and is a highly collaborative scientist, especially with other MUSC faculty as evidenced by numerous joint publications. He was also the program director of a recently ended T32 grant “Program in Immunology Research and Entrepreneurship”. With regard to entrepreneurship, his research in the area of complement regulation has resulted in multiple invention disclosures with numerous patents issued and several patents licensed. Dr. Tomlinson is well positioned to provide guidance and training in entrepreneurship, which has become an important facet of training for the rounded development of an academician. Drs. Cowan and Tomlinson collaborate on projects related to neuroimmune functions and complement signaling in the brain, and they have extensive experiences and perspectives on translational and basic research.

This leadership team spans four different MUSC departments, including Neuroscience, Pediatrics, Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, and Microbiology and Immunology, and the VA research enterprise.