A pioneer in mental health research, Dr. Jeffrey Conn works to advance treatments for neurological and psychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia and Parkinson’s disease. Currently, he is the Lee E. Limbird professor of pharmacology at Vanderbilt University and the director of the Vanderbilt Center for Neuroscience Drug Discovery (VCNDD), where he and his team work to build on fundamental breakthroughs in neuroscience to develop novel treatment strategies for brain disorders
As head of the Conn Laboratory, Dr. Conn leads the team to examine neurological pathways in the brain, to better learn how these networks become disrupted in certain psychiatric diseases. His research helped develop an understanding of cellular proteins called G-protein-coupled receptors, which allow the cell to communicate with the body. These are necessary for a long list of physiological functions, and Dr. Conn’s research has altered how modern medicine utilizes these receptors, allowing for better treatment. It is estimated that between one-third and one-half of all marketed drugs act by binding to GPCRs.
But his passion for research and the discovery of treatments and therapies for patients suffering from mental illnesses began at a young age. In his teen years, a close friend had a psychotic break. From watching the turmoil it caused in his friend’s life and knowing there was so much more that needed to be done to treat and support patients with mental health disorders, he ventured into research – and remains there today.
The efforts of Dr. Conn and his team at the Conn Laboratory have generated multiple drug candidates that are advancing to clinical development at Vanderbilt and in collaboration with pharmaceutical companies, including Johnson and Johnson, Bristol Myers Squibb, AstraZeneca, and others. These represent novel approaches with potential for providing fundamental advances in patient care.
For his incredible work in researching cures for psychiatric disorders, Dr. Conn was awarded the Research and Hope Award, which helps illustrate how biopharmaceutical researchers and others in the innovation ecosystem work together to not only bring new medical advances to patients, but thwart deadly diseases through increased awareness, public health efforts and increased collaboration.