Fifth-year neurosurgical resident Whitney Parker MD, PhD, was awarded the 2019 Christopher Gaposchkin Research Prize in Neurological Surgery for her presentation at the annual Resident Research Day on June 13, 2019. Dr. Parker’s winning presentation was “Generating Patient-Based Models of Neurodevelopmental Disorders to Uncover Disease Mechanisms and Effective Treatments.” This represents a two-time achievement for Dr. Parker, who also won the prize in 2018 for research into NR2B, a critical component of neuronal signaling in early brain development.
Dr. Parker’s research strives to address a fundamental problem in understanding neurodevelopmental disorders: Different mutations in the same gene can have opposite effects on the function of its protein product, so it is critical to understand the consequences of particular mutations in order to effectively treat patients. Dr. Parker builds models of neurons and cortical organoids (mini-brains), derived from patients’ skin cells, to study the consequences of mutations in NR2B, an NMDA receptor subunit important in glutmatergic neuronal signaling in early brain development, and STXBP1, a protein critical to the release of neurotransmitter at the synapse. These patient-derived models allow her to understand the function of these proteins in normal development, characterize the effects of specific mutations, and test the efficacy of different targeted therapies.
The Gaposchkin Prize was established in 2014 in memory of Dr. Christopher Gaposchkin, who died three years after completing his neurosurgery residency at Weill Cornell in 1999. The award recognizes excellence in research by a neurosurgery resident. Previous winners have been Dr. Hilarie Tomasiewicz (2017) Dr. Brenton Pennicooke (2016), and Dr. Peter Morgenstern and Dr. Dmitri Sigounas (2015).
Dr. Parker received her B.A, M.D, and Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania.