Innovation winner – Dr. Richard Bucholz
Saint Louis University School of Medicine
College: Medical degree, Yale University School of Medicine
A hero because…
He invented computer-assisted, image-guided technology that helps neurosurgeons perform precise brain surgeries and improve patient outcomes.
You are both the Director of the SLU Medical School’s Division of Neurosurgery and a computer whiz inventor. Which interest came first?
I’ve always been interested in computers. I built a Healthkit basic computer as a teenager. Then at college, I had to take a division requirement in biology. I noticed there was a course in neurophysiology, and it involved electrical pathways and other things like a computer. The lab had things like doing lobotomies on snails. I found from a dexterity standpoint I was good. When I got to medical school, I focused on neurosurgery and loved it.
Your StealthStation invention has been described as a GPS system for the brain. What does it do?
It decreases the invasiveness of cranial surgery. We used to make huge flaps to get to the patient’s brain and the abnormality. Now we can make small incisions directly over the abnormality. It also improves operational efficacy. We can use the navigational system to help us distinguish between normal and abnormal tissue.
How did your idea develop?
It came out of the time in my residency when we would put electrodes in the brain to record signals related to epilepsy. The machine looked like something that came from the 1800s. I came up with the idea to track surgical instruments and the patient’s head at the same time. After becoming an attending physician here, I was interested in developing that. And after the IBM personal computer came out, I could bring the technology into the operating room. It had the power necessary to bring in CT scans.
What reaction did your receive initially?
The first prototype was bulky and could not be taken on the road, so we could only take the instrument piece and tell people how it worked with the images to show you where your instrument is in the brain. People stared at me like I was from outer space. Slowly, as we got into operating rooms outside of our own, people found it was useful. It has become a standard-of-care issue for cranial procedures. It just makes sense. The more information you can bring to bear in the operating room, the better things will go for you.
How many patients have been operated on with the help of your invention?
I’d say at least 50,000 people.
What motivates you to develop such tools?
It’s one of these things where my hobby and occupation are perfectly aligned. In my house, I don’t have any light switches, and everything is computer-controlled and has its own Web pages. I see professional solutions through my hobby, and the two naturally feed off each other. To me, that’s the essence of keeping yourself engaged in your professional life.