Solver Stories: Seward Rutkove

// Louise Leone // Apr 27, 2021

My name is Seward Rutkove - “This challenge helped push me to improve upon our methods of data collection and to make our first handheld prototype device a reality”solver_6

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig's Disease) is a fatal neurodegenerative disease in which a person’s brain loses connection with the muscles. ALS is usually characterized by selective death of motor neurons in the brain and spinal cord. This leads to muscle weakness, atrophy, and gradual paralysis. People with ALS slowly lose their ability to walk, talk, eat and eventually breathe. The disease typically strikes in people aged between 40-70 and over 5000 people are diagnosed with the disease each year. At present, there is no effective cure or therapy for ALS and patients usually die within 2-5 years after the onset of symptoms. ALS is often diagnosed by ruling out other diseases, which can take many months or even years. To accelerate the identification of effective treatments for ALS, a biomarker (an early read of disease progression) for measuring disease progression is needed.

I am a neurologist in Boston, having graduated from Cornell University and Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons. I completed my neurology training at the Harvard-Longwood Neurology Program and a fellowship in clinical neurophysiology and neuromuscular disease.

I have focused my career on taking care of people with neuromuscular disorders. This includes people with relatively mild problems such as carpal tunnel syndrome, to people with more severe diseases, such as muscular dystrophy and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

Early on, I learned of the limitations of the current diagnostic modalities for these conditions and became determined to improve them. For this reason, I have worked to develop and refine the technique of electrical impedance myography (EIM). This technique offers the possibility of evaluating muscle painlessly and non-invasively. The research on EIM has been funded through multiple sources including the National Institutes of Health, the Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Association, and the Spinal Muscular Atrophy Foundation.

I was already in the process of collecting data on ALS patients when I learned of the ALS challenge posted. It led me to apply my technology research specifically to ALS, focusing on both the animal studies and device development. It helped push me to improve upon our methods of data collection and to make our first handheld prototype device to sensitively measure disease progression a reality. EIM can measure the flow of a small electrical current through muscle tissue. The current travels differently through healthy and diseased tissue, and by evaluating the characteristics of the electrical current, EIM can accurately measure the progression of ALS disease. I continue to explore and refine EIM techniques and their interpretation in the hope that they may one day be applied widely to help evaluate and treat anyone with a nerve or muscle disorder.

The challenge offered widespread visibility of me and my team’s work and research. Although we did get funding from different foundations to support our research, without this challenge, there’s a good chance that even years after publishing our first paper on this technology, we would still be on the outside looking in.

Extract from our book One Smart Crowd  - How crowdsourcing is changing the world one idea at a time. The book is available in Paperback or Kindle format here.

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