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James Barrese, MD, FAANS: Combining Science Fiction and Surgery

Neurosurgeon James Barrese, MD, FAANS, almost didn’t become a doctor. His father, an anesthesiologist, tried to talk him out of a career in medicine. Instead, Dr. Barrese studied neuroscience—particularly technology’s impact on the brain and nervous system. Fascinated by the field, he applied to medical school and never looked back.

“Once I started shadowing surgeons in medical school, I just fell in love with neurosurgery,” he explains. “I became interested in movement disorders and newer technology like deep brain stimulation and brain-machine interfaces, really science fiction type stuff.”

Dr. Barrese, who grew up in Rockland County, New York, earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Florida before earning his medical degree from the University of South Florida College of Medicine. He returned to the tristate area in 2007 to complete an internship in surgery at the University of Medicine and Dentistry (now part of Rutgers School of Biomedical and Health Sciences) and a residency in neurological surgery at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School. During his residency, Dr. Barrese completed a post-doctoral research fellowship in neuroscience at Brown University. There, he conducted research as part of BrainGate, the university’s program focused on developing brain- computer interface technologies to restore the communication, mobility and independence of people with neurologic diseases, injuries or limb loss. Still wanting to learn more about neuroscience, he completed an additional fellowship in stereotactic and functional neurosurgery at Stanford University Medical Center in Palo Alto, Calif., where he deepened his knowledge about deep brain stimulation and the surgical treatments for epilepsy, movement disorders and pain.

Comprehensive, Conservative Care

For Dr. Barrese, often less is more. He and his peers at Princeton Brain, Spine and Sports Medicine strive to treat patients with the most conservative approach.

“We provide a holistic and comprehensive approach to care. We pride ourselves on being honest and fair with our patients and keeping them involved in the decision-making process,” he explains. “We try to treat everyone like we’d treat a member of our own families. We don’t offer what you don’t need. Often, that means not performing surgery at all or choosing a minimally invasive surgical technique over a major open surgery that requires a long recovery period.”

Dr. Barrese evaluates and treats patients with a variety of medical concerns, including:

  • Back pain
  • Brain tumors
  • Degenerative disc disease
  • Epilepsy
  • Essential tremor
  • Herniated discs
  • Neck pain
  • Nerve issues
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Sciatica
  • Spinal tumors
  • Traumatic injuries, such as motor vehicle accidents
  • Workplace injuries

Ever intrigued by how cutting-edge technology can improve his patients’ quality of life, Dr. Barrese also provides functional neurosurgery services, including deep brain stimulation and robotic surgery.

“Using a robotic arm during spine surgery increases the accuracy of screw placement,” he explains. “This technology has been used to operate on brain tumors for years and has been adapted to use image guidance to place spinal hardware more accurately, which increases patient safety and satisfaction.”

When he’s not working, Dr. Barrese enjoys spending time with his wife and two sons, traveling, fishing, hunting, scuba diving, snowboarding and working in his aquaponics garden. He also grows grapes on his property, which he uses to make wine, a skill his Italian uncle shared with him. What gets him up in the morning, however, is using his clinical skills to improve a patient’s life.

“The best part of this job is making a difference in someone’s life,” Dr. Barrese explains. “Treating a patient who is crying in pain and then seeing them able to play sports again or play with their grandkids again is very rewarding. Knowing that I’ve had a meaningful impact on their lives is the best feeling.” For more information about Dr. Barrese or to make an appointment, visit or call (609) 921-9001.

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