It’s been a busy two years since Chad Bouton left independent R&D giant Battelle and hitched his wagon to the Feinstein Center for Medical Research, joining forces with bioelectronics pioneer and Feinstein Center honcho Kevin Tracey. But perhaps no stretch has been busier than this last month, in which the director of Feinstein’s Center for Bioelectronic Medicine earned the top prize in Northwell Health’s Innovation Challenge (with his NeuroGuard device) and headlined a TEDxHofstraUniversity event focused on the future of humanity and technology – capping a year filled with major Feinstein-centered advances in everything from diabetes to concussion studies. Expect similar breakthroughs in 2018, according to the bioelectronics leader:
On guard: NeuroGuard is an approach to treat pre-term labor in a way that doesn’t rely on drugs. When you’re talking about pharmacological solutions, there’s always a risk of side effects, so the goal was to assist pre-term labor while avoiding the side effects of conventional approaches. NeuroGuard uses a device approach that takes advantage of the human nervous system by electrically stimulating a neural target.
Challenge met: The Northwell Health Innovation Challenge was a great event with a lot of terrific entries. I feel lucky that Mohamed (Ahmed, a neonatal-perinatal research director at the Feinstein Institute and NeuroGuard co-creator) and I were selected as the winners. I hope we’ll do more of them in the coming years. It’s crucial – it would be a lost opportunity if we didn’t have contests like this that take advantage of the expert knowledge across our health system.
Let’s talk: The TEDx talk at Hofstra was a great event. First of all, the organizers did a tremendous job. I really enjoyed it and I know the other speakers did, too.
The bionics man: My talk was focused on the age of bionics, which is really here now, and where we’re going in this field. There are questions starting to rise around this, as we start to use implant technology more and we start to literally connect our bodies and brains, in essence, and one day even connect them directly to the Internet. What are the ramifications of this? How will we drive the development of this technology to keep it heading in the right direction?
Quality start: We’ve been focusing on using implants, including brain implants, to treat injury, which is the right place to start. The biggest opportunity is to improve the quality of life for patients living with debilitating conditions, such as paralysis or traumatic brain injury, and I think that’s where we need to keep our priorities. But there are still lingering questions about where this technology goes in the future, and we need to be prepared to answer them.
One for the books: We’ve had a tremendous year at the Feinstein Institute, at the Center for Bioelectronic Medicine and at Northwell in general, in terms of innovation and bringing some of the best ideas out of the lab and into clinical studies, and eventually translating them into solutions for patients. We’ve launched new studies, filed new patents and developed several new innovations in bioelectronic medicine and other areas.
Bring good things to research: We are also very pleased with the strategic alliance with GE Ventures. Sue Siegel has been elevated to the chief innovation officer for GE, and we’ve enjoyed working with Sue already. We’re looking forward to working with her and GE even more closely in the future.
Feinstein vs. Battelle: Battelle is a tremendous research-and-development institution and I enjoyed my career there. But one difference that’s evident is that Northwell gives Feinstein that extra medical expertise that allows us to generate ideas and take them from the lab to a clinical setting. It’s been very exciting to be able to work alongside scientists and engineers and clinicians, to bring that entire perspective of the patient experience. By combining all these areas of expertise, we’ve really been able to generate and construct some fantastic ideas, and I’ve really enjoyed that.
Moving forward: My research has focused on trying to restore functional movement in patients with paralysis – restoring functionality through brain implants. In the coming year, we hope to really push the envelope on dexterity. We want to take it to the next level with better flexibility in the hands for quadriplegics.
Sensitive type: We’re also starting to think about the sensory aspects of this. So many people living with paralysis also live with the loss of senses, the loss of touch. To not be able to hold the hands of loved ones really affects you, or the ability to pick up a hot cup of coffee or do other dexterous things. This coming year, we’re hoping for some new milestones toward these sensory goals.
Yes or no – Nobel Prize for Dr. Tracey? He’s done so much in the medical field, and especially in the field of bioelectronic medicine. He’s been an innovator and a leader. I certainly think he should win one, and I sure hope he does.
Interview by Gregory Zeller