Spotlight on Dr. Sanger

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Spotlight on Dr. Sanger


 

 

My Biography

I chose to specialize in pediatric neurologist because...

When I was obtaining my undergraduate degree at Harvard, and later, my MD/PhD degree at MIT, I assumed a few things:

  1. I assumed that, after I completed my medical school, I would never see another patient. 
  2. I assumed my career would be devoted solely to research.  
  3. I assumed that I would not enjoy treating children.

But, in my third year of medical school, my goals began to change.  

I got to meet a four-year old boy who was hospitalized while awaiting a liver transplant.  One of my duties at the time was to go in and measure his stomach each day. 

The child had been at the hospital for months. His parents had abandoned him there and it was really kind of a sad case.  But we would play a little bit each day and I really began to bond with this adorable little boy. 

It was around this time that I began telling my then girlfriend, now wife, things like “they’d better watch over my kids tonight or I’m going to be really mad in the morning when I go back to the hospital.” 

I hadn’t been saying those things during my rotations at adult hospitals.  And it became clear to me that this was the kind of work I wanted to be doing, getting paid to get down on the ground and play with kids.  So, when I did begin working in neurology, I found that, of course I still wanted to spend time working in the lab researching robotics.  But I also found caring for children very rewarding in and of itself, and in its impact on my robotics work.

My Role at Children's

What my job means...

My role at Children's is to create a Pediatric Movement Disorders Clinic.  I’ll work with the specialists from Rehabilitation, Surgery, Neurosurgery, and a whole host of other specialty areas to bring the very best care to children with these problems as there are only a few pediatric neurologists in the nation who are trained in child movement disorders.  

Being at a tertiary and quaternary medical center like Childrens is important.  Not only is it important from the aspect of being able to collaborate with both clinicians and engineers, but it is important for me to see children who have multiple motor problems. 

Working with kids who have the most to gain is the greatest reward, both for the individual kids with significant motor disorders, but also for the knowledge that can be applied on behalf of children far outside the walls of our hospital.

Most large organizations say that collaboration and cooperation is a strength or, at a minimum, a special interest.  But here, within Children's Hospital Los Angeles and at the University of Southern California, it is real, it is strongly encouraged, it is part of the culture, and it is aggressively pursued.  I can tell you that there truly is a powerful culture of cooperation and collaboration across boundaries of various specialty areas at Children's Hospital Los Angeles, and between researchers and clinicians working in many different departments and schools at the University of Southern California.  The level of cooperation between medical and surgical services is just spectacular here.

 

Strategic Initiatives

A little bit about my research...

At the University of Southern California, I conduct research in the biomedical engineering laboratory.  I spend a lot of time defining and describing movement disorders in order to find ways to fix them using computational models – using the movements of robots.

Basically, what this means is that I figure out what breaks the signaling pathway for a robot so that I can use that information to figure out what breaks the signaling pathway in a child.  Integrating the work that I do in the clinic with the work that we’re doing in the laboratory is important in helping me come up with new devices, possible medications, and new types of therapies for children.

Right now, I’m working on three major projects:

Muscle Retraining

I’ve created a wearable biofeedback device to help children retrain muscles for movement.  In a previous clinical trial I oversaw, kids and parents really enjoyed working with the device, and did successfully achieve muscle retraining.  Currently, I am working to build enough of these devices to develop a larger clinical trial for this effort.

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation

I am researching the application of powerful magnets on parts of the brain to increase or decrease activity in certain areas.  My goal is to define specific ways to relax muscles that are too stiff or activate muscles that are not active enough by applying magnetic stimulation to the neurons in the brain.

Understanding Neural Circuitry

I am studying new mathematical models of neural networks that may help explain how the brain controls muscles, and how injury to the brain leads to movement disorders. 

As part of this research, I am building very fast large-scale simulations of neurons that can be connected to move a robot.  I am doing this so that I can create artificial "injury" to the models and predict the effect such an injury would have on a child many years later.  In this way, I hope to be able to learn how the use of medication or surgery to fix problems early in life can lead to changes in brain and spinal cord function many years later.

 

BACKGROUND AND TRAINING

Medical & Doctoral Degrees
Harvard Medical School, Medical Doctorate

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, PhD in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

Internship & Residency
LAC+USC Medical Center; Pediatrics

Fellowship
Boston Children's Hospital, Child Neurology

Toronto Western Hospital, Movement Disorders

Certifications
Child Neurology, American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology