Exploring the Brain

PhD grad Eduardo Maury is deciphering somatic mutations to better understand neurological disease

Image of Maury outside Gordon Hall
Eduardo Maury. Image: Gretchen Ertl

Eduardo Maury first saw his father, Joaquin, a neurosurgeon, scrub in for an operation when Maury was 13. But that’s not what inspired him to go into medicine and science. In fact, his parents never tried to persuade him to be a doctor.

“But my dad, he loves medicine. He loves being a doctor and helping patients. It’s just like—it radiates from him. So obviously that was very contagious,” Maury said.

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It was Maury's father’s profession that provided the family with an opportunity to leave Holguín, the city in Cuba where he grew up, when Maury was 8 years old.

His father had attended a medical conference in Chile, and in a move to provide a more stable financial future for his family, Joaquin decided to immigrate there. Three years later, he was able to bring his wife, Silvia, and sons, Eduardo and Joaquin Jr., to Chile as well, where the family lived until they immigrated to the United States.

The years before the family was reunited in Chile were not easy for Maury, his brother, or their mother. The Cuban government did not take kindly to his father’s decision to leave. Maury said his family was ostracized and faced deprivation.

But the adversity they faced, and the strength his mother demonstrated protecting and providing for her children during those difficult years, made Maury more resilient—and may have helped him on his journey, he said.

“This attitude of pushing forward, recognizing that things are not perfect, and that you might be going through a difficult time and that things might not be going your way, but you need to persevere, not only for yourself but also for those around you,” he said.

“I think it just made us grow up very quickly in the sense of we’re going through a hardship right now, but we also understand the sacrifice that my parents were making for the hope of a better future,” he added.

The challenges he faced growing up may have also spurred his interest in helping patients with brain diseases, he said. His parents’ sacrifices for the family inspired him to want to assist others traversing difficult life situations.

Valuable mentors

As a teenager in Miami, Maury, now 29, relied on that acquired fortitude. He and his brother learned English well enough to apply to MIT, even though they thought their chances of acceptance were slim.

“We looked at what were the best schools for science and math. I think MIT and Harvard came up. Then we looked at the requirements, and we were like, ah, that’s funny. We don’t even speak English,” he said. “I was like, that was not going to happen.”

But Maury had been fortunate to find valuable mentors who helped him, first in high school, where DeEtta Mills, a scientist, allowed him to do microbiology projects in her forensics lab at Florida International University.

That experience helped him gain admission to MIT, where he majored in neuroscience, and where Emery Brown, the Warren M. Zapol Professor of Anaesthesia at HMS and Massachusetts General Hospital, became, Maury said, a great advocate and mentor.

As an undergrad, Maury became interested in neurological disorders, doing research into Alzheimer’s in the lab of Brad Hyman, the John B. Penney Jr. Professor of Neurology at HMS and Mass General.

“For me, people with neurological disorders—I found them very intriguing because these patients could be robbed of their identity. With Alzheimer’s, people could end up being just a shell of the person that they were,” he said.

“I got to interact a lot with patients with traumatic brain injury who also were struggling to get a sense of self and community, as well as through T.H.E. Brain Trust organization,” he said, referring to a nonprofit group whose goal is to improve the quality of life for people living with brain tumors and related conditions.