Catherine E. Kerr, 52, died November 12 in Watertown, MA, of multiple myeloma. A graduate of Amherst College, she completed a PhD in American studies at Johns Hopkins University in 1994. In 1995, while teaching at Harvard, she was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. She researched the constantly shifting range of therapies for the disease and participated fully in treatment decisions. Seeking guidance from teachers in the healing and martial arts, she embarked on intensive daily practice of qigong, tai chi, and meditation. After years of humanities training, she started down a new path in science, aided by a career development award from the National Institutes of Health to support retraining.
At Harvard Medical School, Dr. Kerr contributed to important early findings in the cognitive neuroscience of meditation. Her emerging work provided novel ways of measuring how mindfulness and tai chi can transform practitioners’ bodily awareness and sensory acuity. In 2011, she joined Brown’s Department of Family Medicine and was named director of Translational Neuroscience in the Contemplative Studies Initiative. At Brown she created the Embodied Neuroscience lab, whose main focus was the Vitality Project, a clinical trial she designed to investigate the healing role of qigong in cancer survivors. A talented teacher of contemplative practices and mentor of young students, she was instrumental in shaping the emerging field. In 2015, she traveled to India to present pioneering work on the neuroscience of mindfulness to His Holiness the Dalai Lama at the Sera Monastery, where she also was called upon to provide basic neuroscience teaching to young monks.
In addition to her husband, Jon, she is survived by a sister and a half-sister. In her memory the Mind and Life Institute has created a new honor, the Catherine Kerr Award for Courageous and Compassionate Science. Those interested in donating to this award may visit www.mindandlife.org/make-a-gift/catherine-kerr-award. To support multiple myeloma research, visit the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation at www.themmrf.org.