Gifts Enable Research on Addiction, Cognitive Ability

Doctoral Candidates Pursue Projects Under Center for BrainHealth Fellowships

Feb. 1, 2012

The Center for BrainHealth has granted new fellowships to two doctoral students to advance their research, made possible by gifts from supporters of the center.

Sam DeWitt, a PhD candidate in cognition and neuroscience, is the recipient of the first-ever Dianne Cash Graduate Fellowship. Cash donated $5 million in 2003 to build the Center for BrainHealth in honor of her mother and grandmother, Frances Goad Cecil and Mildred Crews Goad.

Dianne Cash

Dianne Cash

“As we live longer lives, we should all be concerned with the greatest human asset – our mental capacity,” Dianne Cash said. “This Center can make a difference for us and, more importantly, for our children and their children.”

A magna cum laude graduate of Ohio State University, DeWitt is studying addiction at the Center for BrainHealth under the direction of Dr. Francesca Filbey. With his fellowship, DeWitt will further his study in neurobiological changes that take place in the adolescent brain and how they translate into risk-taking behavior that may lead to substance abuse and dependence. 

Dr. Filbey noted that DeWitt’s research is “not only important, but also very timely.  Our recent understanding of the critical neurodevelopmental period of adolescence has given us tremendous insight not only on the vulnerabilities during this period, but also on potential strategies for prevention and intervention of disorders.”  

DeWitt added, “The more we can understand how young people make decisions about engaging in high-risk behaviors, the better we can help them avoid decisions that can negatively affect their brain health as well as the course of their lives.”

Sharon Freytag

Sharon Freytag

Ali Perez, also a PhD candidate in cognition and neuroscience, was awarded the Sharon Freytag Fellowship, a gift from Haynes and Boone LLP, honoring Sharon Freytag’s retirement from the firm and her long-term dedication to the Center for BrainHealth as an advisory board member and Friend of BrainHealth.

Perez earned her honors undergraduate degree in psychology from the University of South Carolina. She is studying healthy aging at the Center for BrainHealth under Dr. Sandi Chapman and will use her fellowship to lead a pilot study examining the effects of cognitive ability and age on decision-making capabilities.    

“By utilizing the plasticity of the brain, we can make major improvements in how we think and make important life decisions as adults and maintain creative, innovative and high-level thinking as we age,” Perez said.

Perez continued, “Through my pilot study, I am looking for ways to extend the health of aging brains. I want to change the conversation about the cognitive and decision-making potential of older adults.”

“Scientific discoveries now show that our brain retains immense capacity to be modified and strengthened as we age,” Dr. Sandi Chapman, founder and chief director of the Center for BrainHealth said. “Our goal is to elucidate and address ways to combat cognitive decline, support sound decision making, and inform public policy of ways to ensure a sustainable long-term brain future for generations to come.”


Media Contact: Shelly Kirkland, UT Dallas Center for BrainHealth, (214) 905-3007, shelly.kirkland@utdallas.edu
or the Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, newscenter@utdallas.edu
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Ali Perez and Sam DeWitt

Ali Perez will use her fellowship to study the effects of aging on decision making. Sam DeWitt is studying factors that may lead to addiction in adolescents.

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April 23, 2014