NREF Success Story: Teresa Purzner, MD

Teresa Purzner, MD was awarded an NREF Research Fellowship Grant in 2014-15 for a project titled “Combining Mass Spectrometry and Development Genetics for Develop Targeted Brain Tumor Therapy.”


Thanks to the research supported by her NFREF grant, Dr. Purzner discovered a new drug target for Medulloblastoma. In collaboration with Stanford SPARK and the pediatric brain tumor consortium (PBTC), she bridged this discovery from bench to bedside in the form of a multi-insitutional phase ½ clinical trial for the treatment of medulloblastoma. This work has earned her widespread recognition both in the media, including from ABC News, and through national and international awards including the Stanford Interdisciplinary Graduate and BioX fellowship, Annual Award of the American Academy of Neurological Surgery, the Weston Havens Foundation award, K.G. McKenzie prize for Basic Science Research and the AANS Louise Eisenhardt Award. In 2021 she was named a Canadian top 40 under 40.

During her time at Stanford, Dr. Purzner also founded Cerebelly: a babyfood line that bridges the gap between the well-established importance of nutrition in early brain development and the relative lack of nutritional content in available commercial babyfood. Cerebelly has since grown into a well-established babyfood brand with multi-million dollar monthly revenues and nation-wide presence in realtors such as Whole Foods, Target, Wegman’s and Kroger’s.

Currently, Dr. Purzner works with her husband – and fellow NREF Research Fellowship grant recipient – Jamie Purzner, MD, at Queen’s University in Ontario. Together, they run a research program focused on differentiation therapy for medulloblastoma and tools to promote personalized, precision therapy for patients with glioblastoma.

Dr. Purzner shared these thoughts about how the award had impacted her career:


"Every scientist understands the importance of their first grant.  Often given a little earlier than you deserve, your first grant is a tangible example of someone’s faith in your work, and you.  In many ways, it’s the first time you yourself believe that what you are doing actually matters to someone else.  My first grant was NREF.
When I received my NREF grant, I had very preliminary data showing the potential of developmental phosphoproteomics in identifying key regulators of cerebellar development and medulloblastoma growth and survival.  I had also just learnt that the lab I had left my home institution to join was about to close. NREF gave me funding at a critical moment that allowed me to join a new lab but continue to focus on the project I was interested in, rather than refocusing on a project more in-line with my new host lab.  Within a year I had the first preclinical data demonstrating the promise of CK2 inhibitors in murine models of MB.  Once I had that data, I was able to more readily procure translational grants, ultimately 10x the value of the NREF.
The discoveries made during my thesis work have not only lead to a clinical trial, but also provided me with a first-hand experience of serious knowledge translation.  That experience gave me not only the skillset, but also the mentorship, network and confidence, to continue towards a career of translation.  Without that experience, Cerebelly would not exist and the translational projects that Jamie and I are currently working on would have never been attempted."

During the 2017 Academy meeting in Santa Barbara, Calif., NREF Cushing Circle of Giving member William T. Couldwell, MD, PhD, FAANS, had an opportunity to speak with Dr. Purzner about the impact of NREF funding, her plans for the future and being a two-neurosurgeon household. You can read a summary of her discussion with Dr. Couldwell here.

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