Neuromodulation Scholars Bring Transdisciplinary Expertise for Brain Conditions to MN

Building a world-class program in neuromodulation to treat brain conditions requires expertise of both depth and breadth. We've created an infrastructure for success by promoting transdisciplinary scholarship that delivers high-impact scientific and technological discoveries to treat a variety of neurological conditions, including Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy and psychiatric illness. Through the Neuromodulation Faculty Scholars Program, MnDRIVE Brain Conditions hired five neuromodulation researchers and clinician-researchers to complement and extend the university’s strengths in neuromodulation research and clinical care:  

Wynn Legon, Ph.D., is a neuroscientist and physical therapy researcher.  He is developing a new type of noninvasive neuromodulation technology called focused ultrasound.  This technology will allow regions of the brain not currently accessible by non-surgical methods to be stimulated, thereby expanding the options for treating brain disorders without surgery.

Esther Krook-Magnuson, Ph.D., is a neuroscientist who uses a new light-stimulation technique called optogenetics to study why seizures occur and how to stop them. Her work will lead to new therapeutic strategies for controlling epileptic seizures.

Scott Cooper, M.D., Ph.D., is a clinical neurologist and neuroscientist who specializes in the care of patients with Parkinson’s disease and other movement disorders.  Cooper is expert in the use of deep brain stimulation therapy to treat people with these conditions.  His research will lead to improved care of patients.

Michael Park, M.D., Ph.D., is a neurosurgeon and neuroscientist whose surgical expertise includes deep brain stimulation for the treatment of people with conditions like Parkinson’s disease and dystonia. With a background in engineering, Park is working to create new devices that will treat brain conditions.

Patrick Rothwell, Ph.D., is a neuroscientist who uses optogenetics to identify brain regions and brain circuits associated with the behavioral and neurobiological symptoms of addiction.  His work will lead to new interventions for people who suffer with addictions.

Additional neuromodulation scholars are expected to be hired by the end of 2016.

Left to right: Wynn Legon, Esther Krook-Magnuson,Scott Cooper, Michael Park, Patrick Rothwell

When asked what brought them to the University, Scott Cooper and Esther Krook-Magnuson tell similar stories. Cooper, who came to Minnesota from Cleveland Clinic, recalls a conversation he had with Jerrold Vitek, MD, a former Cleveland Clinic colleague who is now the head of the Department of Neurology at the University of Minnesota. 

“Jerry kept talking about what a great group of collaborators he had here. Now that I am here, too, I see how right he was. The people you run into and have interesting conversations with, the people you bounce ideas off of, the people who can provide expertise for your research projects…that fills a gap. The network of people involved in neuromodulation research here is absolutely wonderful. It is a great help, and it is terrific fun.”

Krook-Magnuson also found that collaborative atmosphere to be an attractive component of the research culture at the University.

“There were quite a few draws to my coming here. The department itself was very attractive. Outside of the department, there was an even greater breadth and it was obvious when I was interviewing that there is a lot of eagerness to work together, rather than have a competitive nature. That is important—and it is not universal across all research institutions.”

 Both researchers are eager to discover answers to the complex questions surrounding brain disorders.

 “There are really fundamental questions in epilepsy that we don’t have answers for that we really ought to—why does a seizure start when it starts? Why does it stop when it stops?” says Krook-Magnuson. “Graduate students will come in and ask me questions and I will say, ‘I should be able to tell you that, but I can’t, and that’s because no one can.’ I think we can do better than that. I’m hoping my research will help contribute to that greater understanding so we can help patients reach the goal of ‘no seizure, no side effects.’”