Dr. Amy Brown, Assistant Professor, Movement Disorders Division

Dr. Amy Brown completed her fellowship in movement disorders at Vanderbilt prior to joining the faculty in 2020. With a focus on following patients in clinic and working on clinical trials, her current career path also involves time in the operating room with Deep Brain Stimulation [DBS] patients which ironically connects to her earlier master’s research in neurobiology. In her free time, she enjoys reading, boating, outdoor dining with her family, and attempting her new slackline.

Tell us about your background. How did your path lead to Vanderbilt? 

I’m originally from Chicago. I attended undergrad at Case Western University in Cleveland, and completed a master’s there too. My master’s work was in neurobiology and studying insect/animal behavior. We made little lesions into the insect’s “brain” to see how it changed their joint movements with walking and turning. In retrospect, it’s kind of similar to DBS [Deep Brain Stimulation] where I put electrodes in patients’ brains and try to control their movements (tremors). After my master’s, I went to the University of Illinois at Chicago for medical school. I was convinced at the time I was going to be a surgeon, until I realized I liked being in the OR but hated being a surgeon. That ties into how I became interested in movement disorders, since I still get to be in the OR for DBS patients, but I don’t have to do the surgery part.

I did my residency at Loyola University. One of my colleagues there did her undergrad at Vanderbilt and worked with Dr. David Charles [Professor and Vice Chair of Neurology at VUMC]. She really hyped up Vanderbilt and the movement disorders division. I loved Parkinson’s patients and being in the OR [for DBS patients], so I applied. I was looking for a program that involved seeing a lot of patients since I didn’t have a lot of movement disorders exposure during residency. Plus, Vanderbilt was one of the only one-year movement disorders fellowships I applied to that also had DBS. And my husband and I wanted to live somewhere warmer, so I was happy.

As for staying on after my fellowship, I loved the people I work with, and enjoyed my patient population, so I am happy I got to stay on as faculty. I still get to do DBS, and now I also work with patients with Huntington’s Disease, ataxia, and Willson’s Disease. I also get education exposure, and I am participating in lots of clinical trials. 

What do you like about Vanderbilt? 

The biggest thing is that I really like everyone I work with. I think we’re a really supportive division, and we all have different views on things. What I like about movement disorders is that there’s no single approach, and we all do things a little differently. It’s great having so many people to ask questions and get their thoughts. I also like having residents nearby to join me and learn from each other. I actually also get to go in the hospital and do consult service and telehealth. I enjoy triaging patients while in the hospital and starting their initial workup. In clinic, I really like the long relationships with patients and their families, with a patient population I really enjoy. But in the hospital, I really enjoy working on getting someone treatment urgently. It’s a different skill, but I really enjoy that as well as following patients in clinic. 

As someone who is early in her career, what excites you about the future of Movement Disorders? 

Neurology is always (jokingly) known as a field we have nothing to offer patients. But with Parkinson’s Disease, for instance, we have so many more symptomatic medications to offer. With Huntington’s Disease we’re really focused on finding a cure and/or a long-term treatment plan that will halt or slow the disease. There are currently gene therapy studies that will hopefully eventually find a cure for those patients, and those discoveries will hopefully trickle down to other diseases. I think we’re at the beginning of a very exciting time. Even if we don’t have a cure, we have more treatment options all the time. 

How do you see your career path unfolding?

I’m primarily clinic based, and I am part of a number of clinical trials. I’m the site PI [Principal Investigator] for a Parkinson’s study. I managed to inherit an industry-sponsored study for Huntington’s Disease. I’m participating in studies for dystonia, progressive supranuclear palsy, and multiple systems atrophy, among others. A lot of them focus on symptomatic treatments. Every time I participate in a study I learn more. I want to continue working on clinical trials plus being in the clinic with patients, as well as getting better at educating residents and keeping up in the hospital too. I don’t know exactly where my career is going specifically, but I’m having fun looking for my niche, so to speak. I want to be able to stake out my name somewhere, to bring more studies here for my patients.

What does your ideal weekend look like? 

Since becoming a parent and now with COVID, it’s definitely been a challenge having a social life! We usually try to go to the Full Moon Pickin’ Parties at Warner Parks. Aside from that, we like going to outdoor biergartens and eateries, or really any place where my child can run around while we eat, drink, and visit with friends. I’d probably do more hiking and camping if I could. I bought a slackline recently, so I am challenging my inner student and trying to work on my balance. I also really like boating, so I do that as much as I can.

What’s something your colleagues would be surprised to know about you? 

I don’t know if a lot of them know I worked with insects! I lived in England for like 5 years (1st through 5th grade) but I don’t have an accent. I did a five-day hike on the John Muir trail, which is pretty shocking because I’m not especially strong! 

Which of your Movement Disorders colleagues would you want to be stranded on a desert island with? 

Fenna [Phibbs] would be extremely fun. [Travis] Hassell might actually be able to get us off the island. But I think it would have to be Andrew [Giritharan]—he’s mellow enough for me. We share an office, so it’s kind of like we’re on an island already. He’d probably figure out a way to somehow make coffee for me every morning. 

What are your hobbies? Are you reading/watching/listening to anything in particular? 

Aside from boating and trying to get into slacklining, I’m hoping to restart biking. I used to garden more, but now we have indoor plants. We managed to get our aloe plant to flower!

My New Year’s goal was to read 24 books this year. I’m about halfway. I’m not picky about my books, and usually just choose from the list of top books and download them onto my Kindle. I just finished Klara and The Sun  which was interesting. My husband is in a book club (I try to read the books with him), where they read the book and then watch the movie afterwards. Right now we’re reading Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep with plans of watching Blade Runner later.

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