Research Leader, Battelle
Chad Bouton’s no mind-reader—but a device he helped design is. Among the projects he has tackled in his 15 years at Battelle, where he works as a research leader, was BrainGate, a neurorehabilitation program that uses an implant to decode the brain signals of people paralyzed through Lou Gehrig’s disease, spinal-cord injuries or stroke.
Medical research was not the most obvious work for the Texas native, 41, who studied electrical engineering as an Iowa State University undergrad and engineering mechanics as a master’s student at ISU. But when he came to Battelle, he was told that he might be asked to work in the medical area. “First day on the job, I loved it. It was just the things we do—the variety is amazing,” Bouton says.
He works with biosensors, neurotechnology, brain implants and the like, “really decoding different signals from the body,” he says. “We get involved in surgical devices and systems, what we call ‘ambulatory sensors,’ just when somebody’s walking around, we try to monitor different physiological conditions.”
The idea behind BrainGate, he says, was to place an implant in patients’ motor cortex to “see if you could have patients imagine different movements—in this case, arm and hand movements, because we were in that part of the motor cortex—and then see if we could decipher, could we recognize any of the signals and actually figure out what they’re literally thinking about.”
Bouton and a team of researchers helped Cyberkinetics Neurotechnology Systems, the company developing the BrainGate technology, make improvements. Eventually, researchers were able to decode 14 arm and hand movements. “That opens up all sorts of avenues,” Bouton says. For instance, a person with an implant could control a robotic arm for assisted feeding or control a cursor, pointing and clicking around the computer screen. One patient demonstrated her ability to maneuver an unoccupied wheelchair using the technology.
In addition to BrainGate, Bouton’s work has included supporting Cleveland-based Neuros Medical in a project to help amputees relieve phantom pain via a stimulator; he also worked with Columbia University to see if patients’ epileptic seizures could be predicted or identified early.
Bouton holds 67 patents worldwide. In 2010, he was named Battelle Inventor of the Year for his body of work. “I was very shocked, but pleasantly surprised” by the recognition, he says.
Mike Fritz, who worked with Bouton at Cyberkinetics, says Bouton possesses “kind of a rare combination of advanced engineering knowledge and upper echelon communication skills. He’s got managerial presence, but he’s got top-tier scientist-engineer practical skills.” No matter the size of the budget, Chad was able to deliver research of value, says Fritz, who says he could see Bouton achieving success as a chief technology officer at a venture-backed startup: “I think that would be a great role for him. Hopefully one I’m working in, because I know it’ll be successful.”
Reprinted from the April 2012 issue of Columbus C.E.O. Copyright © Columbus C.E.O.