I am a pediatric movement disorders physician and neuroscientist with expertise in basal ganglia network pathophysiology, dystonia and neonatal brain injury.
Inspired by my uncle who had recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, my graduate thesis was on the role of the pedunculopontine nucleus in balance and falls in the healthy and parkinsonian brain. I was fortunate to pursue these studies with a global group of mentors: Judie Walters, PhD, at the NIH, Tipu Aziz, FMedSci, at the University of Oxford, and Dora Angelaki, PhD, who, at that time, was at WashU. This work was funded by the NIH Graduate Partnerships Program, the George C. Marshall Scholarship and the WashU Medical Scientist Training Program. I received my DPhil (what Oxford calls a PhD) in 2008 and my MD in 2012.
During medical school, I realized that I most enjoyed working with children. The most common motor disability in children is cerebral palsy which results from injury to the developing brain and affects 2-3/1000 babies born every year. Cerebral palsy is mechanistically understudied – this is particularly true for dystonia, which is a debilitating, painful, underdiagnosed and undertreated movement disorder that is common in children with cerebral palsy. My career has since focused on these issues.
During residency and fellowship training in pediatric neurology and movement disorders at Boston Children’s Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital, I began working with Seward Rutkove, MD, and developed rodent models of cerebral palsy that displayed dystonia. We showed that electromyography and nerve conduction studies could be used to distinguish dystonia from other motor problems in these animals.
As I started on faculty at WashU in 2018, I worked with Jordan McCall, PhD, to use neural circuit manipulation techniques (optogenetics/chemogenetics) and Steve Mennerick, PhD, to use slice electrophysiology to study the role striatal cholinergic interneurons play in causing dystonia following neonatal brain injury.
Now, in our lab, we use the techniques noted above in mouse models of neonatal brain injury together with clinical studies to move closer to curing dystonia in people with cerebral palsy.
In my “spare” time, I enjoy playing with my three kids (twin boys and a girl), watching really good and really bad TV and dreaming about eating in amazing St. Louis restaurants again.