Three junior faculty members in the Department of Neurological Surgery at the Keck School of Medicine of USC have been chosen to participate in the American Academy of Neurological Surgeons Emerging Investigator Mentoring Program.

“This award goes out to junior faculty who show the most promise in the national neurosurgery pool to become successful independent researchers,” said William Mack, MD, professor of neurological surgery (clinical scholar) at the Keck School. Mack noted that the three faculty members have all taken on substantial research projects in addition to their clinical practices.

Darrin Lee, MD, PhD, assistant professor of clinical neurological surgery at the Keck School, studies the underlying biology of schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s disease and deep brain stimulation techniques to treat cognitive and psychiatric dysfunction.

Frank Attenello, MD, MS, assistant professor of clinical neurological surgery, utilizes CRISPR-based methods to study the role of a novel class of genetic transcripts, called long non-coding RNAs, on the growth of glioblastoma brain tumors.

Brian Lee, MD, PhD, assistant professor of clinical neurological surgery, conducts research on computer interfaces engineered to communicate with the brain of a paralyzed or injured patient that help them control assistive devices, such as a cursor on a computer screen or a robotic limb.

The two-year program was established by the Academy of Neurological Surgeons in conjunction with the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, a division of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the Neurosurgeon Research Career Development Program.

A handful of promising young investigators were selected to participate in the program, which gives them individualized mentoring from senior neurosurgeon-investigators and NIH personnel in small seminars at the American Academy of Neurological Surgery annual meeting, the American Association of Neurological Surgeons annual meeting and the NRCDP retreat.

The goal of the program is to help participants further their early research so that they can apply for substantial research grants to continue their work, such as the career development awards from the NIH.

Mack noted that the selection of three faculty members from the Keck School to participate in the program speaks to the strength of the department and to the ongoing effort to promote clinician-scientists in neurosurgery at the Keck School.

“Dr. Giannotta has been pushing to increase the number of successful physician-scientists in the department and he has done that exceptionally well,” Mack said of Steven Giannotta, MD, chair and professor of neurological surgery at the Keck School.

Faculty from the Department of Neurological Surgery at the Keck School have, in the last five years, been awarded two NIH K-series career development awards, three NIH R01s, one NIH R21, one NIH P01 project award, and an NIH R25 training grant.

— Hope Hamashige