Price Withers, postbaccalaureate (postbac) fellow in the NINDS Division of Intramural Research, received a first-place score during the internal NINDS Three-minute Talk (TmT) competition on June 2, 2022. This achievement allowed Withers to compete with trainees from 11 other NIH institutes and centers in the NIH-wide TmT competition later that month on June 30, 2022. During an impressive three-minute presentation, he showed that a new method to localize the origin of seizure activity in the brain has potential to guide surgical interventions with more resolution than current methods.
Withers knew he wanted to study neuroscience during his undergraduate education. But without family members in research or medicine to inform his academic pursuits, he began exploring research opportunities on his own. He soon realized that while he loved the process of scientific investigation, the desire to be a doctor also hovered in his mind. In 2021, Withers graduated from Vanderbilt University with the goal to become a physician-scientist.
Drawn by the opportunity to ask patient-centered research questions in a clinical setting, Withers entered the laboratory of Sara Inati, M.D., assistant clinical investigator and head of the Neurophysiology of Epilepsy Unit. There, he set out to improve treatments for patients with focal epilepsy, a condition in which seizures originate in a localized region of the brain. Surgical removal of the instigating brain tissue can be a very effective treatment, but Withers was dismayed to learn that it leads to long-term seizure freedom in only about half of patients who undergo the procedure.
Under Dr. Inati’s mentorship, Withers developed a quantitative method to pinpoint the exact location of abnormal brain activity onset. To run his calculations, he measured differences in the elapsed time between individual points of seizure-related activity recorded from a series of electrodes that had been implanted into the patient’s brain. “It’s the same way that we can localize earthquakes by observing distinct signals at distant locations,” Withers explained. “We can calculate where the abnormal brain activity may start by recording the timing between electrical signals at different spots in the brain.” He hopes that this approach will add to the toolkit of techniques that a physician can use to localize seizures more accurately.
Throughout his training, Withers regularly interacted with his mentor, Dr. Inati, for inspiration and guidance.
“This experience has taught me about the type of mentor I want to be one day,” Withers said. “I would encourage other trainees to form a relationship with their mentor because I learned the most by receiving direct training from Dr. Inati, which allowed me to become a better scientist.” Withers said he plans to pursue an M.D./Ph.D. program after one more year in Dr. Inati’s laboratory, during which he will continue to appreciate “this great opportunity to be a part of the amazing discoveries happening every single day at the NIH.”
Contributed by Shana R. Spindler, PhD