In celebration of Women’s History Month this year, the McCance Center spotlights some of the many women who have made history in neuroscience, and some of the women making history in the field today. 

History-Making Women in Neuroscience Today

Sonia Vallabh, PhD, a McCance Center faculty member working at the Broad Institute, is a pioneering patient-scientist fighting for primary prevention of prion disease, a genetic brain disease. Read more in “The Married Researchers Racing to Stop Prion Disease,” Scientific American.

Zeina Chemali, MD, MPH has dedicated her career to underserved populations globally in Lebanon, East ​Africa, Uganda, and Brazil, and improving elderly care through screenings of medical, neurological and psychiatric diseases; today she is the Medical Director for the McCance Clinic.

Christiane Wrann, DVM, PhD is leading new research funded in part by a McCance Center SPARC award on how irisin, a hormone produced by muscles during exercise, can enter the brain and improve cognition, opening the door to potential therapeutic drugs. Her work on “How Exercise May Keep Our Memory Sharp” was featured in the New York Times last year.

Jacqueline Lane, PhD, whose work is funded in part by a McCance Center SPARC award, established a collaborative and interdisciplinary program marrying genetics with functional approaches to address issues in health related to sleep and circadian biology. You can read more in one of her most recent papers, “Genetically Proxied Diurnal Preference, Sleep Timing, and Risk of Major Depressive Disorder,” in JAMA Psychiatry.

Erin Dunn, ScD is pioneering ways to identify children whose have been exposed to adversity early in life, work funded in part by a McCance Center SPARC award. Her work investigates multiple new tools, from baby teeth to epigenetic biomarkers, chemical changes in DNA that alter how genes are expressed. Learn more at

Jill M. Goldstein, PhD is a pioneer in understanding sex differences in medicine, a McCance Center faculty member and the founder of the Innovation Center on Sex Differences in Medicine (ICON). Most recently, she found concrete evidence that how we handle stress at 45 is linked to both prenatal exposure and sex, research published as “Stress before Birth Affects Midlife Brain Circuits Differently in the Sexes,” in Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News.

Ana-Maria Vranceanu, PhD, has dedicated her career to breaking down the walls that separate physical and mental health through interdisciplinary research focused on developing and implementing mind-body and lifestyle interventions for patients and families. Learn more.


Historical Figures Who Charted the Path for Today’s Pioneers

Maria Manasseina published the first comprehensive handbook on sleep in 1889 and discovered that the negative effects of sleep deprivation originated in the brain, demonstrating that sleep is more important than food for the preservation of life.

Laura Forster and Manuela Serra were the first two women working at the Spanish Neurological School of Santiago Ramon y Cajal in Madrid. There, Forster was the first to apply the neurofibrillary techniques to birds and her findings were published in August 1911; Serra reported for the first time the presence of microglia, which she called “mesoglea,” in the white matter.

Augusta Dejerine-Klumpke characterized the paralysis of the lower brachial plexus, named Klumpke's palsy, in 1882. During World War I, in France, she treated soldiers with spinal cord injuries and founded a professional rehabilitation center.

Cécile Vogt, one of the first women admitted to medical school in Paris made landmark discoveries in neuroanatomy and neuropathology that contributed to a new understanding of the interactions between different regions of the brain.

Source material for the historical spotlights appears in the 2020 article "Women in Neuroscience: A Short Time Travel."