Seward B. Rutkove, MD Honored with 2021 Innovation Award

Published September 02, 2021


Innovation has been a part of Seward Rutkove’s, MD life ever since early childhood. He reminisces over the days when he and his grandfather (an electrician and occasional inventor) would spend time together building crystal radios with kits from Radio Shack while experimenting with other simple circuitry. Unfortunately, his grandfather also suffered from epilepsy. When Dr. Rutkove was just 4 years old, he witnessed his grandfather having a generalized seizure. These factors lent a hand to Dr. Rutkove’s interest in the unique combination of electricity, invention and medicine leading him to his career as a neurologist and researcher.

Today, Dr. Rutkove is a professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School where he serves as the chair of the Department of Neurology, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. He has been a member of AANEM since 1995. “AANEM has provided me with an association of like-minded individuals interested and supportive of diagnostics in the field,” Dr. Rutkove says. “Collectively, they embrace new technologies and are excited to help propel the field forward, offering better care for patients, while supporting the physicians and other caregivers doing the work.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Dr. Rutkove’s work focuses on the application of innovative techniques for the assessment of NM disease. His research centers on electrical impedance myography (EIM), neuronal excitability testing, and ultrasound methodologies.

“I have this vision,” Dr. Rutkove shares, “namely to improve our current technologies in a variety of ways that will make them more quantitative and effective.” In addition to his devoted academic work, Dr. Rutkove has cofounded not just one, but two different companies – Myolex, Inc. and Haystack Diagnostics, Inc. The two companies have similar but distinct goals - developing impedance technologies specifically for NM assessment.

Myolex, which has been around for 12 years, concentrates on surface-based EIM measurements (mainly for tracking muscle condition). The technology applications include primary assessment of muscle and nerve diseases and their response to therapy (for use in clinical trials or individual patient care), assessment of older individuals and patients with other causes of muscle wasting (cachexia), or tracking recovery from injury. Out of this technology they even developed a new fitness product known as Skulpt Chisel©. This of course has added exercise focused consumers to Myolex’s list of potential patrons. The technology is also being used to assess muscle wasting in space through NASA funding.

The newer company, Haystack Diagnostics, which is only about a year old, is focused solely on embedding EIM technology into standard EMG. The hope is that additional information will be provided when conducting patient exams using the same needle stick. This alone could be a game-changer for EMGs by providing new insights into muscle composition, including the presence of fibrosis, edema, inflammation, and even potentially offering an estimation of muscle cell size.

One of the many challenges Dr. Rutkove has experienced in pursuing his work has been teaching basic concepts of impedance to other physicians, who are entirely unaware of it. “Finding acceptance and enthusiasm for the work that we have been doing among people unfamiliar with impedance proves to be challenging as it is not a subject taught in medical school or neuroscience courses,” he elaborates. “Interestingly though, researchers, grant funders, and the pharma industry are very interested and supportive of moving these efforts forward. With that said, education on impedance concepts in general and EIM in particular are needed to bring the technology to a wide audience of physicians and other caregivers.”

Dr. Rutkove says he is passionate about continually trying to break the mold when it comes to NM diagnostics. He has seen the field of EEG experience all sorts of innovations over the past few decades, especially through advanced analytics. “I think there are many opportunities to improve NM diagnostics in a similar fashion,” he says. “There have been many times that I have thought about throwing in the towel. But, my excitement for the underlying science and for the potential improvements in the health care we provide propel me forward.”

In his free time, Dr. Rutkove enjoys a litany of activities including running, cooking and playing both piano and cello. “Creative work is the best, and it can take many forms,” Dr. Rutkove says. He even attempts golf but is still trying to figure out why it is still so difficult. He enjoys spending quality time with his wife, a composer of modern classical music, and daughter, currently a graduate student in climate science at UC Berkeley.