Thomas Jessell, renowned neuroscientist and former director of and key contributor to the founding of Columbia’s Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute, has died. He was 67.
In a statement to MBBI affiliates, Institute co-directors Rui Costa, Eric Kandel, and Richard Axel attributed Jessell’s death to a rapidly-progressing neurodegenerative disorder.
Jessell was endowed under the Claire Tow Professorship in Motor Neuron Disorders in the neuroscience and biochemistry and molecular biophysics departments. He was well known for his research on chemical signals and neurological circuits. Originally an assistant professor in the department of neurobiology at Harvard Medical School, Jessell moved to Columbia in 1985 to work as an investigator for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, a philanthropic organization that provides funding for biological and medical research as well as scientific education.
Jessell, along with Axel and Kandel from the department of neuroscience, played a significant role in founding the MBBI, a center dedicated to neuroscience research, which is located at the Jerome L. Greene Science Center on the Manhattanville campus.
In March 2018, HHMI stripped Jessell of all titles and grants and announced that it would stop funding his lab starting May 31. Columbia began investigating Jessell’s misconduct in December 2017, after which he was removed from all administrative positions, including his co-directorship of the MBBI, for engaging in a years-long relationship that violated the University policy on consensual romantic and sexual relationships between faculty and students.
The statement to MBBI affiliates did not mention Jessell’s misconduct, but highlighted his achievements in neuroscience research and leadership.
“Through his creativity, he constructed biological edifices that have profoundly enhanced our world. His creativity and his leadership will be sorely missed,” Costa, Kandel, and Axel wrote in a joint statement.