Dr. Michael Kruer: Cracking the Code to Cerebral Palsy
When Michael Kruer was in medical school, he knew he wanted to work with children. But his advisors cautioned him against specializing in neurology. They told him it was one of the most difficult fields to practice — and that he may never be able to look a patient in the eye and tell them he could take away what ails them.
Dr. Kruer took this as a challenge. With advancements in gene therapy opening up incredible opportunities in neuroscience, he realized he could be a part of something much bigger than himself — an effort to take an entire field of medicine into uncharted territory, and give children affected by movement disorders hope that didn’t seem possible just a few years ago.
Today, working with a consortium of physicians and researchers from around the world, Dr. Kruer is using cutting-edge technology to discover the genes that lead to cerebral palsy. This work has the potential to remove some of the mystery that comes with a cerebral palsy diagnosis, by giving families greater insights into the nature of their child’s illness and helping doctors prevent complications before they arise.
In December 2018, Dr. Kruer’s achievements helped him land a $3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) that will be instrumental to his ongoing research into the genetics of cerebral palsy. “I don’t see a ceiling on this,” says Dr. Kruer. “We are doing things that have never been done before and it’s so exciting. We are adding amazing colleagues, building these excellent clinical programs, and we really feel like we can do something great.”
“Dr. Kruer has surpassed everything he said he was going to do. He has the potential to become a leading physician nationwide. We just have to continue to provide him with the support and the resources to get there.”
— Jared Muenzer, MD, MBA, Senior Vice President and Chief Operating of the Phoenix Children’s Medical Group
A Deeper Understanding
For some of Dr. Kruer’s patients, genetic sequencing can yield powerful insights. In 2018, the family of a 9-year-old patient with cerebral palsy enrolled their daughter in a research study to learn more about her condition. Dr. Kruer’s team sequenced her genome and discovered that the disorder is tied to a rare genetic mutation, and that her condition might be treatable using deep brain stimulation. Phoenix Children’s is one of only a few centers in the nation providing this procedure to children.
Imagine you’re 6 years old. After a terrifying accident, you were pried from a car, whisked into an ambulance and rushed to the trauma center at Phoenix Children’s Hospital. All you can see are glaring lights and the faces of people you don’t know. Doctors are urgently giving orders. Nurses are putting a mask over your face and needles in your arm. You can‘t breathe; you’re disoriented, and no one knows your name yet. Your tears spill over and you begin to panic. Then, a Child Life Specialist enters the room. Everything changes.
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“She tells everyone she wants to be a mom when she grows up. She’s just so nurturing, and it would be awful to think she couldn’t do that.” It’s what Jennifer Tully of New River says about her 10-year-old daughter, Carmella. She’d always played with dolls, and for most young girls her age, future motherhood seems like a given.
Willow is bouncing up and down on her bed at Phoenix Children's Hospital, and wriggling to the music. Her eyes are brighter and her small, chunky body moves with the beat. In some ways, she looks like a typical one-year-old, the apple of her mom’s eye.