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Dr. Phillips Joins Department of Neurosurgery

October 31, 2023

H. Westley Phillips, MD

Welcome to H. Westley Phillips, MD, who joins Stanford's Department of Neurosurgery as an Assistant Professor of Neurosurgery. Dr. Phillips will specialize in pediatric neurosurgery and direct a research program focused on pediatric epilepsy.

Dr. Phillips holds a medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania, and he completed his neurosurgical residency at UCLA. Subsequently, he obtained fellowship training in pediatric neurosurgery at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

His research interests are predicated on understanding the underlying mechanisms of pediatric drug resistant epilepsy (DRE) in hopes of discovering novel treatments to improve outcomes. He was awarded two years of funding via the NIH/NINDS R25 grant to investigate the genetic underpinnings of DRE in children at Boston Children’s Hospital, where he studied the feasibility of utilizing trace amounts of brain-tissue adhered to removed depth electrodes to detect brain specific somatic variants from otherwise discarded sources of DNA.

As a neurosurgeon-scientist, he is committed to advancing the field of pediatric epilepsy by using his unique access to both patients and their pathologic tissue to determine the genetic underpinnings of DRE in children. 

Dr. Phillips's faculty appointment begins November 1, 2023.

We spoke with Dr. Phillips to learn more about his clinical and research interests:

What do you enjoy most about neurosurgery as a career? 

It's a real privilege to serve patients when they're most vulnerable and be able to impact their lives. I also love the rigor of neurosurgery and innovation that this field allows for – it both aligns with my clinical interests and my research interests, which are in pediatric epilepsy surgery.

What do you find most rewarding about subspecializing in pediatric epilepsy neurosurgery?

Drug resistant epilepsy has debilitating consequences from both a neurological and psychological standpoint. Having the opportunity to intervene, and either cure or palliate seizures in a young child can  completely change their trajectory and provide them with a greatly improved quality of life. Being able to work with patients to provide  these therapies are a big motivation. Finding cures and learning more about the mechanisms of epilepsy in children also drive my research in this disease. 

Can you tell us more about your research? 

My research is predicated on understanding the genetic underpinnings of epilepsy. Using brain tissue samples, I look for somatic or postzygotic mutations that are specific to the brain that are potentially contributing to the patient's epilepsy. My research seeks to understand the molecular basis of epilepsy to hopefully generate novel therapies that will allow us to better treat epilepsy in the future.

What drew you to working at Stanford? 

Many things drew me to Stanford. Starting at the top with Dr. Michael Lim, he is a great leader and a role model for me. His focus is on treating patients and that's at the forefront of everything he does. His approach is something I want to model my practice after. 

Furthermore, Stanford's pediatric neurosurgery division chief, Dr. Cormac Maher, is someone who I also greatly admire and someone who I hope to emulate in delivering compassionate, patient-centered care.  Having excellent colleagues such as Drs. Laura Prolo and Kelly Mahaney and the rest of the pediatric neurosurgery group was important to me as I was looking at different opportunities. And working alongside amazing epileptologists such as Drs. Bill Gallatine and Brenda Porter, to name a few, was appealing to me. 

Seeing Stanford's excellent epilepsy program and knowing that I would have the ability to contribute to a very high volume, impactful pediatric epilepsy surgery program. And then lastly being at Stanford and having the infrastructure for leading edge research as well as the resources to really kickstart my academic career and my research program.

What is something that others may not know about you?  

Despite not being from Northern California, I am a longstanding San Francisco 49ers fan. I also played college football at Yale, so sports and athletics has always been a very important part of my life.

And lastly a unique hobby that I've had since I was young, is that I collect sneakers – so I consider myself a sneakerhead.