W. Maxwell Cowan

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William Maxwell Cowan (27 September 193130 June 2002) was a South African neuroscientist who helped contribute to the growth of modern neuroanatomy through his use of novel anterograde tracing techniques which fundamentally transformed the field in the 1970s. He was vice president and chief scientific officer of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute from 1987 until his retirement in 2000.


  • As biomedical research continues to provide us with greater understanding and with powerful new tools, the scientific community has, I think, a dual responsibility. One is to push forward the frontiers to make medical advances possible, to understand what cancer is, to develop new ways of treating cancer, to prevent heart disease, and to develop ways of preventing, ultimately, disorders such as Alzheimer's disease and depression. But science also has a second responsibility to society, which is to point out what we need to be concerned about as a society and to bring to bear humane, balanced, and thoughtful ways of dealing with the advances that come from biomedical research. Scientists need to speak to these issues.

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