When I was 15 I was heading home from the last day of school when a drunken teenager threw a house brick that hit me in the forehead. This caused a depressed compound fracture of the skull, which in turn triggered post-traumatic epilepsy. I was in and out of hospital and was eventually fitted with a vitallium plate to cover the hole in my skull and given medications to prevent seizures. I am one of the lucky ones: I have been fortunate to have my epilepsy pharmacologically controlled since 1976.
After my accident I initially struggled at school. Never the most diligent student, I found it very difficult to concentrate and study; however, I gradually managed to apply myself, graduate and even to go on to university to study physiology. Since then I’ve continued my career and am now the Annetta and Gustav Grisard Professor and Chair of the Department of Neuroscience at Tufts University School of Medicine. I run an active laboratory researching a range of neurological disorders, including epilepsy.
What about sailing?
I began to learn sailing using the age old trial and error method. When I was a graduate student in England, I attended a scientific course at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratories on Long Island. One afternoon a fellow student asked whether I would like to sail. “Sure,” I said confidently. How hard could this be with another sailor? We set out on a small centerboard boat. We’d only gone a few yards when we capsized. As we bobbed to the surface the other student turned to me and asked, “How do we get the boat back up?” “ I don’t know,” I responded, “I thought you knew how to sail!” Somehow we figured it out and over the next few hours and multiple capsizings we learned how to turn through the wind and, perhaps more important, determined how to get the boat back to the dock.
In 2007 I took American Sailing Association (ASA) classes on the Delaware River then, after moving to Boston, purchased a boat in 2009 that we named Prairie Gold. I’ve sailed Prairie Gold about 18,000 nm, largely in the New England coastal waters. I started off cruising, but in 2015 tried the New Year’s Day race run by the Constitution Yacht Club (CYC). I was immediately bitten by the racing bug and that summer joined the CYC Wednesday evening series and went on to race further afield.
I’ve had a few victories, winning the 2017 doublehanded Beringer Bowl from Marblehead to Provincetown, MA and later that year was awarded the Mass Bay Rookie of the Year award (disclaimer: this award is based on number of years racing, not age!). In 2019, I won the Newport, RI based double-handed Ida Lewis race with co-captain Mike DiMella.
By 2015 I already knew that I wanted to sail in remote offshore areas where I’d have to face many challenges – sleep, or the lack thereof, hydration, provisioning, navigation and general fatigue. I made a few long distance sails, either solo or double-handed, successfully completed the qualifying requirements for a long distance race, and in 2017 entered the Bermuda 1-2 race, a race hosted by the Newport Yacht Club. In this event the boat races singlehanded from Newport to Bermuda and then, after a few days’ break, returns double-handed from Bermuda to Newport (hence the 1-2).
This race captured my imagination. I spent five months preparing for the event, optimizing the boat, figuring out my provisioning, and researching and practicing best sleep practices (naps!) in order to get sufficient rest. My preparations paid off as in this, my first attempt, I placed 4th in class in the solo leg, 3rd in the double-handed leg and 3rd overall for both legs combined.
For thirty years my research has focused on roles played by glial cells in the modulation of neurons and recently into the use of glial targets as therapeutic interventions for brain disorders. Some of my studies published in the 1990s paved the way for a new way of thinking in the Neurosciences in which glial cells are active participants in brain signaling in health and disease. Since moving to Tufts University School of Medicine in 2008, my research has focused on the importance of glial cells in neurological and psychiatric disorders. I’ve also received several prestigious awards, including a McKnight Investigator Award and the Jacob Javits Award from the National Institutes of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
Throughout my career, I have been energized by the interface between academic science and industry. I was a founder and partner in Prairie Technologies, a privately held company that developed state-of-the-art microscopy tools including 2 Photon microscopes for use in the neurosciences. Prairie Technologies was subsequently acquired by Bruker Instruments. I was also co-founder and President of GliaCure, Inc., which has developed a small molecule modulator of the P2Y6R as a potential therapeutic for Alzheimer’s disease and asthma. I have taken this company through successful rounds of fund raising and have overseen preclinical and clinical development of the compounds.
More recently, I co-founded a new company, Naveris, which specializes in diagnostics for viral-induced cancers.