Sarah McEwen PhD

Sarah C. McEwen, PhD, NSCA-CPT

Director, Research and Programming, Brain Health Center; Cognitive Psychology

Sarah McEwen, PhD, is a cognitive psychologist with 14 years of clinical research experience, specializing in the study of physical activity and cognitive enhancement interventions to investigate biological, behavioral and health-related outcomes in patients suffering from cognitively debilitating disorders. Dr. McEwen is a graduate of the UCLA Fitness Leadership program and an NSCA-certified personal trainer and experienced behavioral interventionalist. She has a passion for the development and implementation of novel physical exercise and cognitive training programs for aging populations looking to improve their overall brain health and maintain functional independence. She is excited to bring these innovative programs and line of research to the Pacific Brain Health Center.

Dr. McEwen graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and minor in Human Development from the University of California, Davis. She continued her graduate education at Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland where she earned an MSc and PhD in Psychology studying the neural correlates of risk for psychosis. She returned to California to complete her National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) T32 Postdoctoral Fellowship in the UCLA Department of Psychology, specializing in the early detection and prevention of psychiatric disorders. She received an NIMH career development award to study the neurobiological correlates of a combined exercise and cognitive training program in patients with a serious mental illness.

Dr. McEwen was faculty at UCLA in the Departments of Psychiatry & Biobehavioral Sciences and Psychology for 7 years. While at UCLA she was the first investigator there to carve out the unique research area of physical exercise interventions in translational psychiatric research studies to improve neuroplasticity and restore compromised brain functioning. Additionally, her innovative multi-modal MRI approaches used sophisticated MRI methods to identify brain changes in structural and functional connectivity and neurochemical markers of activity-dependent neuroplasticity. Dr. McEwen is recognized as a pre-eminent investigator in this field with a track record for successful grant funding and growing publication record. She has led numerous research grants while at UCLA, including studies funded by the NIMH, Department of Defense, Brain and Behavior Research Foundation, National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, National Parksinson’s Foundation, and Motion Picture and Television Fund.

Dr. McEwen serves as Section Editor for the peer-reviewed journal NeuroReport, and Associate Editor for the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, and has published over 35 peer-reviewed journal articles. She is a member of the following professional organizations: Society for Neuroscience, Society for Biological Psychiatry, Schizophrenia International Research Society, National Strength and Conditioning Association, Society for Research in Psychopathology, International Congress of Schizophrenia Research, and Entertainment Software and Cognitive Neurotherapeutics Society.

Dr. McEwen also holds a faculty appointment in the UCSD School of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry, where she collaborates on studies on physical activity and neuroplasticity in aging populations. She serves as the Director of Industrial Research Partnerships in the UCSD Mental Health and Technology Center, which develops novel technology tools to solve mental health problems, and mentors several UCSD undergraduate students in the development of mobile-based mental health intervention projects.

Dr. McEwen is the co-founder of Genius Gyms, a technology company incubated at the UCSD Qualcomm Institute which has created a software application that integrates wearable technologies and cognitive training games to help older adults improve their mental and physical health and promote successful aging through exercise.

Areas of Research

  • Physical activity
  • Cognitive enhancement
  • Mobile health and technology
  • Structural and Functional neuroimaging
  • Alzheimer’s Disease and mild cognitive impairment
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Psychosis
  • Healthy aging
  • Preventative medicine