This year’s Philip R. Dodge Young Investigator Award recipient is Louis T. Dang, MD, PhD, of Michigan Medicine. The award will support his ongoing investigations into cellular and molecular mechanisms of genetic epilepsies and the development of novel therapeutics for SCN1A- related Dravet Syndrome.
Dr. Dang’s development into a career in pediatric neurology started with early exposure to the field of medicine. One might say that medicine is Dr. Dang’s family trade – both of his grandfathers were physicians, and his paternal grandfather was one of the first Vietnamese neurosurgeons and the dean of the medical school in Saigon, Vietnam. His father, eight of his aunts and uncles, and his brother are all physicians or dentists. His wife, whom he met in a neighboring neuroscience lab during graduate school, is a pediatric neurosurgeon in Detroit, Michigan. We are already looking forward to their infant son’s future career in neuroscience!
As a chemistry major at Stanford University, Dr. Dang spent his summers in the organic chemistry laboratory of James P. Collman, PhD, developing and studying biomimetic chirally-selective catalysts that would improve the process of drug synthesis. Through this work, Dr. Dang caught the bug for scientific discovery. He wanted to apply his efforts more directly to health-related research, though, and decided to combine the pursuits of clinical medicine and science through a combined MD-PhD program.
In 2001, Dr. Dang entered the Medical Scientist Training Program, funded by the National Institutes of Health, at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. He completed his PhD in Neuroscience with Nicholas Gaiano, PhD, studying the role of Notch signaling in cell fate specification of neural stem cells in the developing mouse brain. Their research showed that Notch signaling maintained a neural stem cell fate and
distinguished the stem cells from intermediate progenitors. In work linking developmental and oncogenic pathways, they also showed that aberrant Notch activity was sufficient for the oncogenesis of certain tumors. He graduated with his MD and PhD degrees in 2009 and was selected by his peers to present the commencement address.
Dr. Dang earned multiple awards during his child neurology residency at the University of Michigan. He proved himself to be an astute clinician and educator. His performance in general pediatrics was so exceptional that the program developed a new leadership award in his honor. He also received awards for outstanding teaching (the Bronze Beeper for medical student teaching and later the Pediatrics Department fellow teaching award). Dr. Dang continued to apply his passion for scientific inquiry during his clinical training with published work in Pediatrics and Epilepsia. During residency, with the mentorship of Dr. Renée Shellhaas, MD, MS, he published a case series on children with cerebral atrophy who developed subdural hemorrhages after receiving antithrombotic therapy. For this work, he was awarded the CNS M. Richard Koenigsberger Scholarship Award and the Department of Neurology Resident Research Award. Dr. Dang stayed at Michigan Medicine for a one-year fellowship in Clinical Neurophysiology, during which he examined the yield of continuous EEG monitoring in children with paroxysmal vital sign changes, again with mentorship from Dr. Shellhaas, and again winning an award (this time the Department of Pediatrics Fellowship Clinical Research Award).
After his clinical training, Dr. Dang returned to the laboratory as a Clinical Lecturer at the University of Michigan to pursue fundamental knowledge of brain development and associated disorders through basic and disease-oriented research. In 2015, he joined the laboratory of Dr. Jack Parent, MD, as a postdoctoral fellow to study the pathogenesis of early-onset genetic epilepsies using human stem cell models. Dr. Dang uses patient- derived and gene-edited induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) derived into two- and three-dimensional neural cultures to examine cellular, molecular, and electrophysiological abnormalities caused by pathogenic genetic variants. In 2016, he received the Department of Pediatrics Faculty Award for Basic Science Research.
With initial support from an institutional K12 (CHRCDA) and then from NINDS (K08) and the Dravet Syndrome Foundation, Dr. Dang’s research has focused on sodium channelopathies including pathogenic variants in the SCN1A and SCN1B genes which cause Dravet Syndrome. More recently he has been studying mutations in an mTOR pathway gene STRADA, which causes Polyhydramnios, Megalencephaly, and Symptomatic Epilepsy (PMSE) Syndrome. His Dodge Young Investigator Award research focuses on a strategy to augment SCN1A expression by using antisense oligonucleotides to target upstream open reading frames in the SCN1A gene.
Dr. Dang is a remarkable child neurologist who has already shown exceptional abilities as a scientist, clinician, and educator. His research combines cutting edge laboratory neuroscience with key bedside clinical observations. His work holds promise to lead to direct therapeutic benefit in Dravet Syndrome as well as other diseases with haploinsufficiency as the genetic mechanism. With a love and aptitude for teaching, astute clinical skills, and tenacious scientific pursuit, Dr. Dang is a model for young investigators in our field and is most deserving of this year’s Philip R Dodge Young Investigator Award.
Dr. Dang earned multiple awards during his child neurology residency at the University of Michigan. He proved himself to be an astute clinician and educator. His performance in general pediatrics was so exceptional that the program developed a new leadership award in his honor. He also received awards for outstanding teaching (the Bronze Beeper for medical student teaching and later the Pediatrics Department fellow teaching award)