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Spotlight: Neurosurgeon Michael Park believes technology can be used to improve medicine—and the human condition

Neurosurgeon Michael Park, MD, PhD, unites engineering and medicine to help improve our understanding and treatment of movement and chronic pain disorders.
University of Minnesota Health Neurosurgeon Michael Park, MD, PhD, is leading the charge to develop new treatments for Parkinson’s disease and other movement or chronic pain disorders.

From plastic model airplanes to patients with Parkinson’s disease, Neurosurgeon Michael Park, MD, PhD, likes to fix things.

Park joined the University of Minnesota Health neurosurgery team late last year. His background in medicine, electrical engineering and biology gives him a unique perspective as he works to improve our understanding and treatment of movement and chronic pain disorders. Park, who specializes in deep brain stimulation treatment for Parkinson’s disease and other conditions, joined us to answer a few questions about his background, role and passion for patient care.

Describe your new role within University of Minnesota Health. What interests, skills and experience do you bring to our organization?
I joined the University of Minnesota Health neurosurgery team last December as part of the MnDRIVE Initiative. I’m also an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota Medical School. My role is to provide treatments that require a brain-machine interface, or the implantation of devices, to help a brain condition. These devices help us administer deep brain stimulation to treat movement disorders, which includes Parkinson’s disease. But we can go further, and use it to treat things like depression and obsessive compulsive disorder. I also have experience treating chronic pain and spasticity with implantable devices, like spinal cord stimulators or implantable drug delivery systems.

Why are you passionate about your position?
My background is not just in biology and medicine, but in electrical engineering. I have always taken an engineering angle in my approach to medical conditions. I’m always thinking about how devices or inventions can be used to improve not just the medical treatments we administer, but also the human condition and the brain condition itself. Because the brain can be considered as kind of electrical system in your body, I am able to connect my passion for medicine with engineering, which also includes bionics and robotics. It was popular when I was younger. So, that’s what led me to do what I do.

Why were you drawn to treating chronic pain and movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease?
In movement disorders, we’re directly manipulating the brain’s circuitry with an electrical device to modify its function or modify the way the brain is working to improve the patient’s quality of life. In Parkinson’s disease for example, patients have movement difficulties because their brain circuitry is not working properly and it causes tremors or abnormal body movements. By implanting a device and stimulating part of their brain circuitry, we can modulate and control it. We can influence the brain to stop tremors or improve posture. It’s the ability to influence and modulate a central nervous system that makes this type of treatment effective for movement disorders, psychiatric disorders, and chronic pain conditions.

Learn more about our neurosurgery services.

Describe one of your favorite memories from your work as a physician.
Many of my patients have been told that they don’t have many treatment options for their condition—and then when they visit us they find out that there is actually another option available. The most joy I get is when they come back after treatment and the tremor is completely gone. Basically, they are getting part of their life back. For me, it is not just about restoration of function—but restoration of life. Sometimes you don’t even have to wait until after treatment; you can see the improvement during surgery, which is typically done while patients are awake. When we place an electrode in the right spot, and the tremor goes away and we can see the smile on a patient’s face—it can’t get any better than that.

What do you love about the University of Minnesota Health community?
It’s a very collegial environment. My partners and the staff here are great. They’re very easy to get along with. Overall, we all share the same common goal and that’s what I like about it. We all want what’s best for families and patients. Everyone is working so hard, striving to deliver the best cure that we can. It’s good to be in an environment like that.

Tell us one surprising or interesting fact about yourself.
Many people don’t know about it, but I like to work with my hands, so I’m really into building plastic models. I haven’t had time recently, but back in the old days, I used to build plastic models, like model jets, bombers and cars. I like to fix things. I hate seeing things that are broken or not working.