Assistant Professor of Biology
Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior
Autism continues to be an ominous word for parents, signifying a brain development disorder that can hit young children and impair how they interact and communicate.
Parents rightly worry about such a diagnosis because much of how the disorder operates is not yet fully understood. Autism also appears to have different causes.
But mention autism to Eric Morrow, and he is calmly optimistic.
“The field of autism is really turning a corner,” said Morrow, assistant professor of biology and assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior. “Human genetics has really produced some very solid breakthroughs, which now provide some traction for molecular studies.” Morrow is also the first director of Brown’s new Developmental Disorders Genetics Research Program.
Morrow plans to study disorders of cognitive development, which include autism and intellectual disability (formerly known as mental retardation).
His goals are ambitious: He wants to help other researchers and molecular biologists continue to translate genetic discoveries into a greater understanding of the underlying brain mechanisms as they relate to autism and intellectual disabilities. He hopes that knowledge and scientific progress can be translated into better care for patients and their families.
Morrow, 40, will conduct much of his research in the Laboratories for Molecular Medicine, 70 Ship St., in the Department of Molecular Biology, Cell Biology and Biochemistry. He’ll also be a part of the Institute for Brain Science. By January, Morrow also plans to have research space set up at Bradley Hospital for patient-oriented genetic studies.
Morrow wants to build bridges with his research, collaborating with other research peers at Brown and with others focused on treatment and education. He is excited about the collaborative opportunities here.
“There is a lot of interest and a longstanding record of caring for people with developmental disorders here,” he said. “Part of my research, and the problem in general, relies on multidisciplinarity and collaboration.”
Morrow added that he sees the timing at Brown as being “really right for coming together around this problem. There is already a lot of great science being done here that is quite relevant.”
Morrow, a native of Toronto, has been preparing for this work for a long time. In 1992, he earned his Bachelor of Science degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 1998, he received a Ph.D. in genetics from Harvard University. Three years later, Morrow earned his M.D. from the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Science and Technology and Harvard Medical School. In 2007, both institutions awarded him an additional M.Sc. degree in clinical investigation.
Morrow, a married father of two young children, has long studied neurodevelopment and has a deep interest in children who suffer from autism and intellectual disabilities. They — and their families — make strong impressions.
“The families want explanations,” he said. “Many are very interested in the research and the science.”
And the children?
“Each child is a little bit different,” he said. “But I learn a lot from each one.”