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Faculty Spotlight: Jeffrey Cooney, MD

Friday, May 11, 2018

Jeffrey Cooney, MD, first got interested in neuroscience as an undergraduate student, and then decided to focus on movement disorders when he saw the different treatments like deep brain stimulation could make in patients’ lives. In this week’s “Faculty Spotlight” interview, Cooney talks to us about this journey, his current work at Duke and at the Durham VA, and his new role heading our fellowship program in movement disorders. He also discusses his loves of cooking, travel, and camping with family when he’s not at Duke.

What are your responsibilities within the Neurology Department? What does your typical day look like?
I see patients with a wide variety of movement disorders, including Parkinson’s disease, atypical Parkinsonism, tremor, ataxia, dystonia, tics, and Huntington's disease. I spend the majority of my time on clinical work, but I also reserve time each week for research and education. Most of my clinical time is spent at Morreene Road, but I also spend Tuesdays in the OR for deep brain stimulation (DBS), and spend Friday afternoons at the VA. I’m always happy to have residents join me in the OR, or spend time in the clinic for a movement disorders rotation!

How and when did you first get interested in neurology?
I have been interested in neuroscience since my early years in college, and my interest was particularly sparked by the opportunity to work with a “split brain” patient in Mike Gazzaniga’s lab, where we studied the lateralization of function between the hemispheres of the brain. Working with a split-brain patient provides a unique opportunity to study the function of each cortical hemisphere in isolation, and also raises interesting questions about how these surgically separated hemispheres are able to yield a seemingly unified (albeit sometimes inaccurate) conscious experience. After college I moved to Berkeley to work in Mark D’Esposito’s lab, where I used fMRI to study memory and attention. We studied many people who had sustained strokes to different regions of the brain, and my interactions with these patients led to my interest in medicine and neurology. It took several years for me to decide whether to pursue clinical neurology or basic science, but in retrospect the choice seems clear!

How did you get interested in movement disorders? What do you enjoy most about your work?
My interest in movement disorders started with the experience of watching a patient’s symptoms improve dramatically after DBS, and was then fostered by my work with two faculty mentors in the movement division at UNC. As I spent more time in the movement disorders clinic I also came to appreciate how much we can do to help many of our patients, and the variety of treatment options that we have to offer. I also enjoy the range of practice settings in movement disorders, and during any given week I am likely to see patients in the general movement clinic; perform injections of botulinum toxin for dystonia; spend time in the OR doing surgical planning, micro-electrode recordings, and intra-operative testing; see other patients for outpatient DBS adjustments; and evaluate patients in a variety of clinical trials. Clinical research is also a rewarding part of my work, and I am very interested in the potential for creating adaptive or “closed loop” DBS systems.

You recently took charge of our Movement Disorders fellowship program. What changes, if any, do you plan on making to the program?
In the coming years I hope to expand the number of fellows that we have each year, and to increase the emphasis on research during fellowship. I have been putting together a more formal curriculum of topic reviews and journal clubs, and also hope to add several new conferences including a “video rounds” to review interesting or unusual cases, and a multi-disciplinary DBS conference to review potential candidates for DBS implantation. The movement disorders division will be adding three or four new faculty members in the next year, and I hope to use the fellowship curriculum to enhance interaction and cohesion within the division.

What other passions or hobbies do you have outside of the Department?
I love to spend time with my family and in the outdoors, and also like to cook and to travel. We’ve taken the kids camping since before they were one year old (they are 9 and 7 now), and we’re happy that they have also developed a love of being outside.

Cooney and his family pose during a recent trip to Italy...

...and while hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park.