June 1, 2011

When Ed Cook’s brother, Wade, died in 1989 of natural causes, there was no diagnosis for the developmental and emotional problems that had always plagued him. Cook ’77, the Earl M. Bane Professor of Psychiatry and director of the Center for Neurodevelopmental Disorders at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Chicago, believes that by today’s standards, his brother would be considered to have autism.

Ed Cook Jr. ’77 is the director of the Center for Neurodevelopmental Disorders at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Chicago, where he conducts autism research.

Cook remembers that Wade, who was six years his junior, would become extremely upset when his or the family’s routine was disrupted – an attribute now identified as common to autism spectrum disorder.A desire to help people like Wade and their families has inspired Cook during his 25-year medical career as one of the nation’s leading researchers focusing on the neurochemistry of autism. He is trying to pinpoint possible genetic links to the neural development disorder, as well as explore the use of medications to alleviate symptoms.

In 1997 he and his research team published findings on chromosome 15q duplication syndrome, a clinically identifiable group of symptoms found in individuals with an extra piece of chromosome 15 that has duplicated end-to-end. This extra genetic material is one of the most frequently identified chromosome problems in people with autism.

For years Cook has been a scientific and professional adviser for IDEAS, a parent support group for children and adults affected by the syndrome.

“People with this condition remind me of my brother from childhood to adulthood,” Cook says. “I’m not surprised that I’ve ended up working with these families, who, like my parents, inspire me with their commitment to provide a loving home and dedication to their children’s needs.”

Cook now is involved in trials for the first autism medications developed on the basis of genetic findings. “Our ultimate goal is to find more drug treatment options,” he says.

A student of the late Harold Jeskey, SMU’s R.S. Lazenby Professor Emeritus of Chemistry, Cook says that undergraduate work with molecules and “being tested under pressure was good training for a future physician/researcher.” He holds a Bachelor’s degree in biology from the University.

His fondest memory of SMU: meeting his wife, Melissa Perrett ’76, during his first night on campus in 1973. The couple married in 1981, after his graduation from The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. They have two children: daughter Lindsay and son Andrew.

Cherri Gann