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July 31, 2017

Meet the Scholar: Christina Pressl, M.D.
By Michelle Romanick

Dr. Christina Pressl joined the Clinical Scholars Program at the Rockefeller University in 2014. Dr. Pressl received her M.D. from the Medical University of Graz in Austria, and she joined Dr. Winrich Freiwald’s Laboratory of Neural Systems as an Instructor in Clinical Investigation after completing three years of radiology residency at the Medical University of Vienna.

As a child, Dr. Pressl developed a fascination for nature, spending many hours in her parent’s garden inspecting insects and local plant life. She followed this passion with intensive biology classes in high school and her interest in medicine developed from spending time in her father’s private practice. After graduating from high school, Dr. Pressl traveled for cultural experience, learning new languages, as well as auditing university classes in diverse fields of studies, all related to the natural sciences. She went on to attend the Medical University of Graz and participated in a number of research programs during her studies and throughout radiology residency, which fostered her interest in neuroradiology and neuroscience.

During residency, Dr. Pressl did a research sabbatical at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center under the mentorship of Dr. Mark Dunphy, and working with a group of outstanding doctors and scientists utilizing radiopharmaceuticals for the diagnosis, evaluation, and treatment of cancer. It was during this time she learned about the research in Dr. Freiwald’s Laboratory on neural mechanisms of face perception. This led her to apply to the Clinical Scholars Program with Dr. Freiwald as her mentor, and she started the program in July 2014.

Dr. Pressl’s research focuses on studying the neuronal machinery of face perception by applying advanced imaging techniques and batteries of behavioral tests. In her main project she is working with Temporal Lobe Epilepsy (TLE) patients to understand how the face perception network is affected by ongoing epileptic seizures and to investigate what impact temporal lobe surgical resection has on the system. In other projects, the focus lies on the developmental form of face blindness, including the search for genetic contributions. Dr. Pressl is active in outreach endeavors, developing a website, www.faceweb.me, organizing a town hall meeting for patients with face blindness in December in conjunction with the Community Engagement and Recruitment Cores as well as Clinical Directors Network (CDN). She is also collaborating with the New York City-Clinical Data Respository Network (NYC-CDRN) and Dr. Jonathan Tobin to query a large number of electronic health records to learn more about the prevalence and medical impact of face blindness.

When asked about her experience as a Scholar and Chief Scholar, Dr. Pressl replied, “I experienced many priceless teaching moments in the program. The Clinical Scholars program has shaped me as physician scientist and a team leader. I have autonomy to develop and lead my research, and I have been encouraged to create a team to drive the research. I also have the freedom to ask questions and test theories. The spirit among the Scholars, as well as throughout the Rockefeller University, has encouraged me to actively seek the exchange of ideas.

The Clinical Scholars are very diverse in their disciplines and scientific backgrounds and this diversity generates robust discussions on a wide variety of stimulating topics. Curiosity connects us and drives us, and diversity is the key to developing a flourishing, motivated, and successful community. Often it is the views of people outside my own field, who look at the science from a different angle, that helps me see aspects of my own work that I had not recognized before. This intellectual input and stimulation perpetually sparks new ideas, leads to new approaches, and ultimately fosters development.

Dr. Pressl was accepted into the David Rockefeller Graduate Program, and will pursue her PhD degree by extending her research in the Freiwald Laboratory of Neural Systems.