Dr. Deborah Mash

Deborah Mash is Professor of Neurology and of Molecular and Cellular Pharmacology at the University of Miami School of Medicine.  She is also the Director of the University’s Brain Endowment Bank.  She has led ground breaking research into BMAA and its impact upon human health.

  1. In 2 sentences, explain your work with the HWHF?

We are examining the distribution of the neurotoxin β–N –methylamino–L–alanine (BMAA) in marine aquatic environments. The occurrence of BMAA has been reported in isolated cyanobacteria from waters in South Florida, the Baltic Sea, China, South Africa, Autstralia, and Peru. Since cyanobacteria are ubiquitous in marine systems, BMAA bioaccumulates up the marine food web, potentially posing health risks to humans.

  1. Describe what your organization does best.

Our research team includes biomedical scientists who work closely with marine biologists. Combining our talents between the marine sciences with biomedical sciences provides opportunities in Oceans and Human Health (OHH), employing the cross-disciplinary approach in a variety of ways to develop new programs in marine policy, coastal margin economics, marine science education, and public health agendas.

  1. What’s the best part of your day?

My best part of the day is when I am working on a new idea and bringing that idea into the laboratory to advance the concept.

  1. What are you currently working on?

We have demonstrated elevated levels of BMAA in sharks and dolphins, two marine apex predators. This work provides additional support that marine cyanobacteria may play a role in human exposure to BMAA.   Our recent work demonstrates widespread BMAA detections in sharks may occur outside of the South Florida coastal waters. The recent finding that BMAA co-occurs with other cyanotoxins in contaminated water supplies raises the possibility that low-level human exposure to BMAA may occur in many parts of the world

  1. When did you know you wanted to be a neuroscientist ?

I became interested in the human brain and neuroscience when I was an undergraduate student. I recognized then that the brain is the next biological frontier.

  1. What piece of advice would you give someone looking to break into this field?

Find the best training you can in your chosen field, work hard and learn new knowledge every day.   Most importantly, you must love what you do to succeed.

  1. What do you read for fun?

I read books on cosmology and philosophy.   I am fascinated with the complexity of the universe and theories about human behavior and belief systems.

  1. Are you a Windows or Apple person?

I am totally an Apple person. I bought my first Macintosh computer when I was at Harvard Medicine, while I was working at Beth Israel Hospital. I am a big fan of the late Steve Jobs.

  1. What’s one thing you can’t work without?

My MacBook and my iPhone.

  1. Who do you admire and why?

I admire Albert Einstein. His work on the general theory of relativity, is one of the two pillars of modern physics. Einstein’s work influenced the philosophy of science. He was a great scholar and visionary.

  1. What’s the most interesting place you have ever been (for work)?

I really enjoyed my time spent at Harvard Medical School. Everyone there was intelligent and highly motivated. I spent sabbatical time in New Zealand. This experience was magical.

  1. What’s the most interesting thing you have ever done?

I have had too many interesting experiences in my career. I am hard pressed to pick the “most interesting”.

However, in terms of my work for the Hoover Foundation, my collaboration with ethnobotanist Paul Allen Cox has been one of the best experiences in my life. He is fiercely intelligent and one of the most driven people I know.

  1. What’s the farthest you’ve ever traveled for your work?

New Zealand

  1. What accomplishment are you most proud of?

Founding DemeRx, Inc., a drug development company and the UM Brain Endowment Bank, one of six NIH neurobiobanks.

  1. What do you hope to accomplish in the future?

Contribute new knowledge that will lead to better medicines and cures for diseases that affect the human brain.

  1. What’s your favorite activity outside of work?

Traveling to parts unknown and eating great food.

  1. If you were on an island and could only bring three things – what would they be?

My laptop computer, a hairbrush and SPF60 sun screen.

  1. How do you define success and how do you measure it?

Success is going to work and loving what you do each and every day. My scientific career is a privilege.   I have purpose and each day is a new mystery to be solved and more to learn.

  1. Who were the most important people to help you create success in your life and what did they do for/with you?

I have been fortunate to work with amazing people. Professor Karen Berkley at Florida State University was a wonderful role model.   Dr. Marsel Mesulam at Harvard Medical School taught me about the intersection of neurology and neuroscience.   Dr. Frank Ervin (deceased) helped me advance my dream to bring ibogaine into human clinical use.   There are many more, but these three are the ones that helped the most advance my career path.

  1. If you could do something as a career other than what you are doing now (no limits) what would it be?

Start an angel investment fund to launch new companies based on novel “out of the ordinary” scientific discoveries.

  1. What question did we not ask but should ask the next person?

If you could do it again, would you pursue a career in science ?


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