Faculty Spotlight: Wuwei (Wayne) Feng, MD, MS
Wuwei “Wayne” Feng, MD, MS was interested in the brain long before he became a neurologist, even taking a skull home with him so he could get a better idea of it. Now, as the new Chief of our Division of Stroke and Vascular Neurology, Feng is treating patients with stroke and researching ways to use various neuromodulation tools to improve the lives of people who are living with them. For his “spotlight” interview, Feng talks to us about his current research work as well as the challenges and opportunities in helping people recover from stroke-related deficits. He also talks about drinking/collecting tea and fishing with his family when he’s not at work.
What are your current responsibilities within the Neurology Department? What does a typical day for you look like?
My role is the chief of the newly formed Stroke and Vascular Neurology Division. I also run a neuromodulation and stroke motor recovery lab. Depending on the day of the week, you may see me working in the lab (although we are still setting up the lab here), having meetings in the hospital or seeing patients in the 1L clinic.
How and when did you first get interested in neurology? What do you enjoy or find most interesting about studying and treating patients with stroke?
I was always fascinated with the brain and I liked neuroanatomy big time during medical school. I even “stole” a skull for a few weeks just trying to figure out how it all worked. Moving onto my Neuroscience research fellowship was a natural move after medical school, and from then it did not take me too long to choose neurology as the medical specialty for me.
I treat stroke patients in the hospital and clinic then study them in the neuromodulation lab which really makes everyday and career-gratifying experience. It is just awesome.
Your research focuses on using neuromodulation and other techniques to improve recovery from stroke. What are the biggest challenges and opportunities in this area?
In general, the public has too much hope on technology these days. In stroke recovery, technology has not revolutionized the field yet. We need a sound theory to guide us. We need to understand the post-stroke recovery trajectory better to identify the window of intervention. However, Hurdles and opportunities co-exist. The prospect of providing some or substantial improvements in daily function and quality of life to the millions of stroke survivors is very appealing to me, even if we have a long way to go in this regard.
How do you think our ability to help patients recover after a stroke will change over the next 20 years? What impact will that have on patients at an individual and population level?
I lump stroke patients into three camps. 1) Patients suffered with mild impairments. For these patients we need to increase the intensity of rehab therapy in order to get patient recovered. It is an insurance issue not a medical issue, in my view; it is almost a joke to have rehab therapy twice a week with each session lasting only 30-45 minutes. 2) Patients who have suffered with moderate impairment but whose neural substrate is still somewhat preserved. For these patients brain modulations (either invasive or non-invasive), along with intensity therapy should be the way to go. Assisting these stroke patients to live a “nearly normal life” is my lab’s focus ; 3) For patients with severe impairment ( i.e. the “system crashed”), stem cell, brain-computer interface or compensatory strategy. Altogether, we have a long way to go in this field.
Your DukeHealth profile says that you don’t drink coffee because of your position as a stroke doctor. Can you tell me more about why that is?
Oh, wa….. someone read this already. Yes. I only drink tea and water, never coffee. I am sensitive to caffeine ( jittery, heart palpitations and frequent trips to the bathroom, you name it), plus there is some emerging data suggesting coffee may trigger heart arrhythmia with subsequent stroke, I decided to stay away from it as a stroke doc. It is just me and please kindly do not over generalize it.
What other passions or hobbies do you have outside of the Department?
I like fishing, now almost my whole family is into it. I drink a lot of tea and I also collect tea, but it is not easy to preserve the tea.
Above, Feng shows off a 39-pound monster wide-head catfish he caught in Lake Marion, South Carolina, while below, his son holds a rockfish he caught off Clearwater, Florida's Gulf Coast.