University of Minnesota Health Neurosurgeon Ann Parr, MD, PhD, loves a good before-and-after story.
“A number of my patients are completely miserable when they arrive at my clinic,” said Parr. “But then they stroll in for their six-month or one-year post-surgical visit and are completely unrecognizable because of the care they’ve received here. That is extremely rewarding.”
Parr, the director of spinal neurosurgery, performs complex surgeries that make a positive difference in patients’ lives, but she also conducts vital research at the University of Minnesota that helps our surgeons and physicians improve patient care. We caught up with Parr to learn more.
Describe your role within University of Minnesota Health. What interests do you bring to patient care?
My practice is 50 percent clinical and 50 percent research. In my clinical role, I am the director of spinal neurosurgery. For the most part, I see patients with complex spinal disorders. I also treat patients with general neurosurgical problems. I am interested in minimally invasive surgery for the spine, which means making very small incisions and operating through a small tube. For patients, this approach means less tissue damage, less blood loss, a smaller scar and an easier recovery! I also have an interest in the opposite end of the surgical spectrum—meaning very large revision surgeries. I collaborate with my University of Minnesota Health orthopaedic surgery colleagues to coordinate these large surgeries for very sick patients. There are very few places in the country that can effectively treat these patients. Finally, I am interested in caring for patients with spinal tumors.
Why are you passionate about your profession? How do you see it evolving in the future at University of Minnesota Health?
I am passionate about healthcare because it is one of the few professions that allows us to truly make a difference in people’s lives. At the same time, it is challenging and dynamic. My work requires constant adaptation and learning so that I can offer patients the most up-to-date care. Being part of the University of Minnesota Health allows me access to the latest technologies and information to offer the best patient care possible. It also allows me to collaborate with excellent colleagues to offer comprehensive health care.
Describe how your research has potential to help people with spinal cord injuries?
My research involves the use of neural stem cells to help patients who have injured their spinal cords. This concept has only recently been approved for clinical trials. The University of Minnesota is now a site for one of these clinical trials, and I am the local principal investigator for the trial. While these new trials are very exciting, they involve the use of drugs that suppress the immune system in order to prevent cell rejection. In my laboratory we are working to make neural stem cells out of a patient’s own skin, in order to reduce the chances of immune rejection and reduce need for the drugs. Our work has not reached the clinic yet, but we hope to develop our cells so that someday they will be utilized to help patients with spinal cord injuries.
What do you respect about the University of Minnesota Health community?
The University of Minnesota Health community includes many excellent collaborators and colleagues, who all work together so that our patients receive comprehensive care.
What makes your work memorable? Are there any specific moments you often recall?
I have cared for some patients with very large spinal deformities when other doctors or services in the area could not care for them. We often receive difficult cases that are not suitable for anything but a comprehensive, multi-disciplinary care center. I helped perform complex surgeries on many of these patients alongside orthopaedic surgeons. A number of my patients are completely miserable when they arrive at my clinic. But then they stroll in for their six-month or one-year post-surgical visit and are completely unrecognizable because of the care they’ve received here. That is extremely rewarding.