Kathleen Maguire-Zeiss Named New Chair of Department of Neuroscience

As newly named chair of the Department of Neuroscience, Kathy Maguire-Zeiss, PhD, will help lead the initiative to grow Georgetown’s neuroscience research.

(August 29, 2019) — Since joining Georgetown’s faculty in 2007, Kathy Maguire-Zeiss, PhD, has taken on many roles. In addition to being a professor of neuroscience, she directs the Interdisciplinary Program in Neuroscience (IPN), the Center for Neural Injury and Recovery, the master’s degree program in integrative neuroscience and the T32 Training Program in Neural Injury and Plasticity.

She feels her colleagues work together unusually well, and credits them for supporting her as she takes on new roles, including her newest — chair of the Department of Neuroscience. “I’ve gotten where I am because of my incredible colleagues here at Georgetown,” she said. “They are motivated, smart, hardworking and inclusive individuals that care about the greater good of the department.”

The university and the medical center have an initiative to grow Georgetown’s neuroscience research over the next couple of years. “We are facing a great challenge — actually a great opportunity – to enlarge our neuroscience footprint at Georgetown and in the greater Washington area,” Maguire-Zeiss said. “I see the neuroscience department as leaders in the establishment of this multidisciplinary research and education consortium.”

“Mind/brain is one of our five affirmed priority areas, and I wholeheartedly believe Kathy is the right leader to move us forward,” said Edward B. Healton, MD, MPH, executive vice president of Georgetown University Medical Center and executive dean of its School of Medicine. “She is committed to recruiting scientists that will build on and expand our expertise, and who are interested in exploring collaborations across disciplines such as biology, engineering, mathematics, computer science, linguistics, chemistry, psychology, physics, business, philosophy and medicine.”

A Field with Networks in Many Disciplines

Neuroscience is a broad field, covering the study of normally functioning nervous systems as well as what happens to that system when people have neurodevelopmental, neurological and psychiatric disorders. As such, it benefits from research collaborations. “Neuroscience by definition is an interdisciplinary field, and so collaboration is key to going deeper in our understanding of the brain,” Maguire-Zeiss said.

In her own career, Maguire-Zeiss has demonstrated the interdisciplinary nature of neuroscience. Her doctoral degree is in pharmacology, and she holds a joint appointment with the Georgetown biology department, for which she teaches in undergraduate courses. She came to Georgetown after more than a decade of research at the University of Rochester and a postdoctoral position at the University of Pennsylvania.

Maguire-Zeiss and her co-principal investigator, Katherine Conant, MD, are currently researching the responses of neurons and glia to proteins generated in response to neurodegenerative diseases to find new therapeutic targets, with funding from the National Institutes of Health.

Specifically, Maguire-Zeiss studies the signaling pathways in the brains of people with Parkinson’s disease and HIV-associated neurocognitive disorder. “We are studying whether these protein structures cause the glial cells to be inflamed, because you can design drugs better when you know what receptor or structure to target,” she said.

Set up for Success

Faculty within the Department of Neuroscience frequently collaborate with each other as well as colleagues in the pharmacology, pediatrics, tumor biology and neurology departments at GUMC and the linguistics and biology departments on the main campus.

They also work with researchers at NIH, MedStar National Rehabilitation Network, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and institutions in Germany and Italy.

While neuroscience is inherently multidisciplinary, Maguire-Zeiss attributed the department’s dedication to collaboration to the former chairs, Barbara M. Bayer, PhD, who also served as senior associate dean of Biomedical Graduate Education, and Barbara Bregman, PhD, director of training in neurorehabilitation for GUMC and MedStar National Rehabilitation Network.

“They created, grew and supported a community of scholars with excellence in research and education,” Maguire-Zeiss said. “We are a collaborative and highly collegial community grounded in a desire to make a difference in the world through our work, and I’m grateful for the role they played in establishing and promoting that environment.”

As department chair, Maguire-Zeiss sees herself as a facilitator, striving to bring out the best in the department’s faculty, students, staff and postdoctoral fellows. “I want to bring people together to engage in conversation, encouraging them to think like researchers about innovative ways to bring different entities together to study neuroscience and to experiment with new ways to move forward,” she said.

The department currently has 22 employees; it will welcome a new faculty member in the near future and is currently recruiting another. “When we bring in new faculty, we look for scientists that build on and expand our expertise, and by encouraging collaborations across disciplines, we enrich the department, our students and the whole Georgetown community,” Maguire-Zeiss said.

A Faith Leader for Students

Thanks to its Jesuit history, Maguire-Zeiss has also used her time at Georgetown to focus on her spirituality. She is a spiritual director in the Ignatian tradition and has completed the Ignatian Colleagues Program. She also helps to facilitate Ignatian retreats and the faculty Mission conversations series, all while serving as a member of the Georgetown University Mission Advisory Board and living on campus in undergraduate housing as a resident minister.

“I really love the students, and being in residence is a way to be of service to them in a different capacity,” she said. “It’s about more than grading exams, and they teach me so much!”

The Jesuit tradition and its holistic, collaborative approach is part of what makes Georgetown so special, she said. “The Jesuit approach is infused in all of the curriculum and across the administration: the idea that we take time to listen to each other and go deeper into what we’re studying,” she said. “We go from experience to reflection and then we are invited to a deeper experience.”

“This going deeper, this integration, it makes all the difference,” she added. “I think it allows us to see each other as the entire person. It helps us recognize and appreciate the uniqueness of each person and to see our work as part of the larger community.”

Kathleen O’Neil
GUMC Communications