The Loss of Casey Brown

Posted On: March 20, 2023

It is with profound sadness that we acknowledge the tragic loss of our dear colleague and friend, Christopher (Casey) Brown, Associate Professor of Genetics, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania. Casey died on Saturday, March 18 from complications of liver disease. He passed peacefully in his hometown of Omaha, Nebraska in the loving presence of his father, stepmother, and sisters. No words can express the depth of sadness and shock that this loss brings to the members of his family and to all in the academic community who knew and treasured Casey as a colleague, friend, and mentor.

Casey was recruited to Penn in 2013 after his PhD training at Stanford and landmark postdoctoral work at University of Chicago. As young academic recruits go, he was at the very top of the list, with ubiquitous enthusiasm for his recruitment across the Department of Genetics.  After arriving, he became immediately enmeshed in life in Philadelphia and the Penn community, and his potential was subsequently realized and appreciated by all in his environment. Over the course of his decade at Penn, Casey trained a remarkable cadre of postdoctoral fellows, who have minted their own careers as independent investigators and teachers in academic centers across the world. He also mentored a set of highly talented graduate students who were stimulated to take on challenging and provocative theses under his guidance. His leadership role in the Genomics and Computational Biology Graduate Group at Penn served to attract, retain, and stimulate many of our finest graduate students. He was a gifted, deeply informed, and highly charismatic teacher who was beloved by students and trainees.

Casey was a brilliant and incisive scientist whose innovative work centered on approaches to understanding how human genetic variation controls gene expression. He developed and integrated cutting edge informatic approaches and benchtop experimental designs to bring to the fore powerful eQTL (expression Quantitative Trait Loci) analyses.  His goal with this approach was to identify and characterize DNA sequence polymorphisms, epigenetic elements, and regions of accessible chromatin that determined variability in transcription expression and underlay consequent phenotypic alterations.  While his focus was initially on expression in the liver, these studies quickly expanded to a wide array of cell types and tissues. His expertise, open-mindedness, and collegial approach served as a nidus for multiple productive research collaborations, generating several landmark publications and garnering substantial NIH funding.  The strength of these collaborative efforts is evidenced by his leadership role as a pivotal member of the Genotype-Tissue Expression (GTEx) Consortium, a nationwide multicenter effort that was established to explore the basis for gene regulatory pathways in a wide array of tissue, by integrative modeling of eQTLs and cis-regulatory elements and the dissection of complex trait mechanisms. Many investigators at Penn and around the world had the pleasure of collaborating and interacting with Casey during his career in the Department of Genetics.

Casey died well before his time. He will be sorely missed by many, but none more than by his two teen daughters, Corinne and Lilah, and his loving family. This tragic loss has no words to soften the blow. Our distress at this unbearably sad time of his passing can only be tempered by our many fond memories of his personal warmth, his singular investigative clarity, his scientific enthusiasm, and his personal interest in all those with whom he interacted.