(COLLEGE STATION) – After 12 years of service to the College of Medicine at The Texas A&M University System Health Science Center, Dr. James R. West, distinguished professor and head of the Department of Human Anatomy and Medical Neurobiology, will retire August 2. The Dean’s Office is hosting a retirement reception to honor his service and contributions to the college Friday, July 29 from 3 to 5 p.m.
During his tenure at the college, Dr. West has helped cultivate the Human Anatomy and Medical Neurobiology department, especially in the area of research. Through his leadership, the department’s federal funding has increased by more than 10 times in the past decade, and many of the department’s faculty members are recognized nationally for their research. The department has also put great effort into maintaining their excellence in teaching medical and graduate students.
Dr. West’s research focuses on the nature and effects of fetal alcohol syndrome and fetal exposure to other drugs of abuse, including the impact of such substances on brain development and the mechanisms of cell death. Specifically, his lab looks at how the developing brain is damaged by heavy exposure to alcohol, nicotine and cocaine. Dr. West’s research group findings led to a better understanding of factors that affect the risk and severity of brain damage. His group was also the first to demonstrate that prenatal exposure to alcohol could cause abnormal brain connections and that nicotine could kill cells in the developing brain.
“Dr. West has made many internationally recognized contributions to the field of developmental neurobiology,” College of Medicine Dean Dr. Christopher C. Colenda said. “His research has transformed our understanding of the impact of the effects of alcohol on the developing fetus and the pathobiology of fetal alcohol syndrome. He has also reinvigorated the educational and research activities of his department and recruited talented junior investigators.”
Since coming to the College of Medicine in 1993, Dr. West has trained two Ph.D. students and six postdoctoral level scientists, as well as many undergraduate, graduate, and medical students who have studied in his laboratory. During his 12-year tenure in College Station, he has authored on more than 70 scientific articles and book chapters and close to 150 abstracts. Dr. West has also given 45 seminars and presentations at universities and national and international meetings.
“One of the main reasons I came to the college was to be a department head,” West says. “It had been so rewarding to see students and post-docs succeed, so as a department head I knew I would also have the opportunity to play a key role in mentoring junior faculty.”
In addition to his duties as department head, researcher and educator, Dr. West served as Interim Vice President for Research at the A&M Health Science Center for a year and a half, was a member of the FAS Consortium of the Texas Office for Prevention of Developmental Disabilities and was on the Scientific Advisory Committee on Birth Defects in Texas. Dr. West is also a highly decorated researcher. He was awarded a prestigious MERIT Award in 1988, which consisted of a ten-year grant from the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. He received the Henry Rosett Award in recognition for leadership and research advancing the field of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome research in 1996 and the Distinguished Senior Investigator award from the College of Medicine in 1998. Dr. West was honored in 2001 with the James H. Tharp Award for Outstanding Research in the Field of Alcoholism and the Distinguished Researcher award from the Research Society on Alcoholism. He was promoted to Distinguished Professor in 2003.
Dr. West received his bachelor’s degree in psychology from Wichita State University in 1971 and was awarded a predoctoral fellowship from the National Institute of Mental Health while he earned his Ph.D. in psychobiology from the University of California at Irvine in 1975. He also received a postdoctoral fellowship from the National Institutes of Health to study developmental neuroanatomy at Colorado State University. Dr. West served on the Department of Anatomy faculty at the University of Iowa College of Medicine from 1977 until accepting the department head role at the A&M College of Medicine.
Dr. West is looking forward to spending more time with his family, traveling with his wife, Judy, and focusing on his hobbies and future goals, which include building model ships, writing a historical novel and working on his sports car. He would also like to learn to play the guitar and speak a foreign language.
Dr. West says that leaving work behind will be easy, but he will miss the research and the people. “It doesn’t matter to me if people remember me years from now,” Dr. West says. “I am proud of the people I work with and I know they will continue to do well. Knowing that makes it much easier to retire. My departure won’t leave a gap because I know they will carry on the work we’ve started.”

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