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New leader of Barrow Neurological Institute has ambitious goals

Dr. Michael Lawton, president and CEO of Barrow and chair of neurosurgery. (Barrow Neurological Institute)

PHOENIX — The Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix introduced new president and CEO Dr. Michael Lawton on Wednesday.

Sitting next to him was actress Sharon Stone.

In 2001, just weeks after the attacks on the World Trade Center, Stone suffered a stroke that was caused by a subarachnoid hemorrhage.

As she bled into her brain, her life was saved by a young neurosurgeon who used a new procedure to stop the bleeding. That neurosurgeon was Lawton.

“The majority of people who go through what happened to me do not survive, let alone recover,” Stone said. “I’m able to be here today and walking and talking because of Lawton.”

Lawton comes to Phoenix from the University of California San Francisco Medical Center, a leading hospital for medical treatment according to U.S. News & World Report. His decision to come to Barrow was a very personal one as he steps into the position held by his mentor and now predecessor Dr. Robert Spetzler.

“It’s an amazing place, it’s unlike any other institute or neuroscience center in the world, really,” Lawton said of the Barrow Neurological Institute. “Most neuroscience centers [have] multiple departments and a lot of bureaucracy and limited freedoms for people to innovate and lead and deliver health care.

“What makes Barrow unique is that this is an institute completely focused on the neurosciences,” Lawton said. “Making discoveries, leading change and innovating in this space.”

As Lawton moves forward with Barrow, he’s already looking to advance the objectives of the facility and bring a new level of research and care, particularly in the field of stroke and brain hemorrhage treatment and care.

“We have an ambitious agenda for the next decade mapped out,” Lawton explained. “It’s an agenda I call Barrow 3.0.”

One of the major factors of implementing Barrow 3.0 is the establishment of the Barrow Aneurysm and Arteriovenous Malformation Research Center.

“It will be focused on patients like Sharon, who have had an aneurysm,” Lawton said. “We want to find out why aneurysms form, why they grow and why they rupture.”

Another leap forward is the Barrow Artificial Intelligence Research Center. Lawton has reached out to the Silicon Valley to recruit a former CEO of a startup company to lead the unit. Barrow has also acquired a new supercomputer, which is as powerful as the IBM’s Watson.

The computer and unit will work at digesting all the information from Barrow’s 43 facilities to explore artificial intelligence and applying to medical practice.

Another project Lawton is looking to bring to Barrow is what he calls Neuroplex.

“A neuro-workspace so that people in the neurosciences can collaborate, connect, collide in ways that don’t happen in other traditional medical centers,” Lawton said. “When people are divided in their silos, the synergies don’t develop. Our Neuroplex will be a five-to-seven story building that will bring together all these great minds and capture all that energy and synergy.”

This will take time, fundraising and a few years. But with help from people like Stone and others who know the kind of life-saving work involved at Barrow, Lawton expects the Neuroplex to come to fruition sooner than later.

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