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Christopher Smyser, MD

Profile written by James Brenton, MD

Christopher Smyser, MD

Christopher Smyser, MD was born on the outskirts of Chicago, a son of two chemist parents. He was a competitive swimmer throughout high school and was recruited by the University of Iowa for undergraduate training, where he lettered in swimming. He graduated with highest distinction from Iowa’s College of Engineering with a degree in biomedical engineering. Success in scholastics and athletics was matched, or exceeded, by the successful courting of his future wife, Tara, during his time in Iowa.

Following graduation, he was employed as an engineer in the Departments of Neurology and Radiology at the University of Iowa College of Medicine, where he designed and developed hardware and software tools allowing efficient processing of functional magnetic resonance imaging data using complex statistical modeling. During his time working as an engineer, Dr. Smyser served as first-author on two publications focusing on the analytical aspects of functional MRI (fMRI). It was during this time of employment that Dr. Smyser met and collaborated with adult neurologist and radiologist, Dr. Thomas Grabowski, who served as a mentor and was an instrumental influence upon Dr. Smyser as he decided to pursue a degree in medicine.

With this newfound direction, Dr. Smyser subsequently gained acceptance into the University of Iowa College of Medicine. His continued demonstration of scholastic aptitude throughout medical school was rewarded with an invitation into membership of the Alpha Omega Alpha National Honor Society. He successfully completed his medical degree from the University of Iowa College of Medicine in 2004. Given his prior interests in functional imaging modalities combined with his love for children, Dr. Smyser made the logical choice to pursue a career in child neurology.

Dr. Smyser completed his pediatrics residency at the University of Iowa in 2006, followed by successful completion of his child neurology residency at St. Louis Children’s Hospital (Washington University) in 2009. In his fourth year of training, Dr. Smyser was recognized by his department as an extraordinary resident teacher and was honored with the Steven M. Rothman Award for Outstanding Teaching. During his training, he commenced his research in neonatal neuroimaging by becoming a member of the Washington University Neonatal Developmental Research (WUNDER) Laboratory. As a result of his efforts, Dr. Smyser received the prestigious Leonard Berg Prize for his research, conducted throughout his residency. His ABPN Certification in Neurology/Child Neurology was conferred in 2009. Dr. Smyser elected to remain at Washington University after training, where he is currently an Assistant Professor in the Departments of Pediatrics and Neurology.

Dr. Smyser’s clinical efforts at Washington University have focused on the development of the multidisciplinary Neonatal Neurology Clinical Service. This service was constructed to provide optimal neurological care for infants at risk for poor neurodevelopmental outcomes. The framework of this service is based upon the neonate’s initial inpatient evaluation and subsequent outpatient follow-up. His work within the neonatal neurologic population has proved indispensable for patients and their families.

Despite a rigorous dedication to his patients, Dr. Smyser has also managed to dedicate a large amount of time to pursuing his passion for clinical research. His research efforts have been largely built upon his background in engineering. In 2011, he was recognized with the Child Neurology Foundation’s Scientific Award, which allowed him to analyze the impact of preterm white matter injury upon neural networks. On top of this, Dr. Smyser was also recognized with grant support from the NIH/NINDS for his research on the development and optimization of tools to utilize functional connectivity MRI (fcMRI) in efforts to investigate neural network development in preterm and term infants. This work ultimately culminated in a highly-cited publication in Cerebral Cortex that elegantly characterized the earliest forms of functional cerebral connections and detailed a regionally variable age- specific pattern of network maturation in premature infants by longitudinally following them utilizing resting state fcMRI. Following this, he served as co-author on a very interesting study published in Annals of Neurology correlating stress exposure upon premature neonates within the NICU with functional MRI, finding that exposure to stressors is associated with regional alterations in brain structure and function.

This preliminary research served as the beginning of Dr. Smyser’s ongoing research looking closely at cerebral abnormalities associated with neurodevelopmental impairment in prematurely born children. Most recently, Dr. Smyser has co-authored a series of papers examining the effects of white matter injury in premature neonates upon neurodevelopmental outcome and the use of functional imaging to help characterize this relationship. These articles have successfully demonstrated structural- functional correlates of preterm white matter injury. His group’s preliminary work suggests that fcMRI investigations may have the potential to improve the prognostic accuracy of neuroimaging studies on premature neonatal neurodevelopmental outcomes.

Dr. Smyser’s wife, Tara, is an engineer who performs neuroimaging research at Washington University. They have been blessed with two daughters – Kaelan (age 12) and Keira (age 9). Beyond his history as a competitive swimmer, Dr. Smyser enjoys running and playing soccer. He is also an avid follower of sports, particularly of the Iowa Hawkeyes, Chicago Blackhawks, Chicago Bears and Chicago Cubs. Additionally, he coaches a youth soccer team in his spare time.