I have always been interested in biomedical research, it just took me a long time to get there. My undergraduate was in Mechanical Engineering, then I received a Masters Degree in Electrical Engineering while working fulltime for Lockheed Martin, a large defense contractor. It was great experience, but not what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, so I returned to graduate school full time for a PhD in Biomedical Engineering. It was then that I realized I wanted to use my skills to help improve the lives of patients. My PhD focused on computational neuroscience, and my post-doctoral work focused on neuromodulation therapy. Neuromodulation is the therapeutic alteration of activity in the nervous system as a result of applying electromagnetic energy to neural tissue. Examples include deep brain stimulation (DBS), cortical stimulation and transcranial magnetic stimulation. The theory of operation behind these modalities is that the electromagnetic energy is focused on specific anatomical regions in a way that brings about a therapeutic response. Examples include DBS for Parkinson’s disease or transcranial magnetic stimulation for depression.
We study patient populations who have, for the most part, exhausted other treatment options. Hence, we are in a position to directly affect the lives of patients if the therapy can be successfully applied. For example, DBS of the thalamus (a brain structure that is part of the basal ganglia) can quickly bring about tremor arrest for Parkinson’s or Essential Tremor patients, some of whom cannot otherwise perform basic tasks such as eating or drinking.
One of the overarching goals of my research is to bring better evidence-based practices to the field of neuromodulation. This work is being done at a time when healthcare is changing rapidly. I believe that there are vast untapped resources that could be used to improve the quality and reduce the cost of care for patients who receive these therapies.
Dr. Christopher Butson received a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Maryland, an M.S. in Electrical Engineering from George Washington University and a Ph.D. from the University of Utah in Biomedical Engineering. He completed a post-doctoral fellowship at the Cleveland Clinic and is now Director of Neuromodulation Research and an Associate Professor in the Departments of Biomedical Engineering, Neurology and Neurosurgery at the University of Utah.
Meet members of the Butson Lab at the University of Utah