From revolutionizing surgery on spinal fistulas through applying computer graphics and technology to neurobiology, to being involved with NASA, to studying the use of music in pain relief, Dr. Jonathan Borden of TriHealth has made substantial contributions over the years.
Borden, who grew up in New York and Connecticut, says he’s always had a passion for neuroscience, technology, computer science and artificial intelligence.
“When NASA was launching the rockets, that was an exciting time. In high school, personal computers were just starting to come out, but it was just sort of a hobbyist thing,” he says.
Borden received a bachelor of arts in neuroscience at Amherst College in Massachusetts – one of only a few that offered neuroscience as a major at the time. He attended Yale University School of Medicine, where he completed research in neuroscience and neuropathology.
He’s become a leading expert at combining these fields with technology: His scientific work has involved the application of computer science to neurobiology. From his earliest work, he was using pioneering medical technology. At Amherst, he used artificial intelligence techniques to model neurochemical networks in the brain.
Next, working as a medical student at Yale, he authored papers on the organization of interphase chromosomes in brain tissue. He used 3-D computer graphics techniques to analyze the results of a molecular biological experiment, working with chromosome problems in tumors and epilepsy.
“In an area of a seizure of the brain, there is a reorganization of the chromosomes in those cells. That reorganization causes abnormal electrical activity in the cells, and that leads to the seizure. We were able to show there’s an actual change in the cells,” Borden says.
This research study, his first major publication, ended up on several journal covers, and because of the 3-D computer graphics, he says, he was selected for the cover of Science Magazine in 1988.
This use of computer technology was novel at the time.
“This was all before the Internet,” Borden says. “Computers were not used to the extent they are right now.”
During the 1990s, he made more medicine available via the web when it was first developed. He was part of a team that put a digital camera on a chip with special communications systems, and if people wanted to get a medical consult, they could simply send a photo of an X-ray across the internet.
“It was essentially email, but it was revolutionary at the time,” Borden says.
He completed his medical internship and residency in neurosurgery at Tufts University in Boston and was asked to stay on faculty, working as an assistant professor of neurosurgery.
During his research at Tufts-New England Medical Center, he developed the Borden Classification of Dural Arteriovenous Fistulas. After its clinical applicability was verified by the University of Toronto Brain AVM Group, this classification has come into common usage in modern medicine.
“At the time, people were looking at it the same way as other blood malformations in the brain,” Borden says. “But dural fistulas are unique. I had some patients who had this condition that was not very well understood, and the treatment was very, very complicated. And so this showed an effective and simple treatment. But it went against the rules at the time.”
Borden was also the director of Boston Gamma Knife Center, the first one installed in Boston.
Making Computers and the Web Smarter
Borden is a co-editor of a specification of a computing language. The goal: Link research together the same way web pages link together in order to conduct data analysis better in order to learn new things about diseases, conditions and treatments.
“It’s a way to make the web smarter,” Borden says. “Maybe one doctor is working on one kind of tumor, and another doctor working on another kind of tumor, and there’s genetics involved in both. We want to put those together for new discoveries.”
He has also been actively involved in the development and standardization of XML-based electronic medical records, which is essentially teaching the computer how you can “flag” a field, i.e. a patient’s or doctor’s name. It would sort through the masses of information and make sense of it, making computers able to catch human errors in administering the wrong drug, for example.
Based on these developments, he has been an invited expert for the World Wide Web Consortium Web Ontology Working Group.
Mission Impossible: Studying Treatments for Back Pain
Recent work includes being involved in research studies aimed at repairing degenerated intervertebral discs using growth factors, stem cells and minimally invasive surgical techniques.
And now, Borden has started a new chapter: a study that applies the latest techniques in medicine and technology to spinal disorders. It’s driven by the fact that back pain is the most common complaint, second only to the common cold. An estimated 80 to 90 percent of people will experience some type of back pain in their life.
It’s also extremely difficult to treat. Not to mention, back problems are a common reason opiates are prescribed, and there’s a huge problem with opiate addiction.
This study has garnered enough attention to be carried out in other countries as well, but Borden deals with some of the patients himself. The study involves putting a drug into the disc, spurring it to repair itself. He also mentions an innovative method that imitates the idea of hip replacements. It would replace parts of the spine, leading to better functioning.
“The data is encouraging, although I can’t make any promises,” Borden says. “But I believe very strongly that these techniques will be better. We just need to prove that with research.”
NASA Projects and Music for Pain Relief
Borden also works with the Science Directorate of NASA, which means he’s an external adviser for NASA scientists who apply for funding for projects.
“It’s kind of fun, actually,” he says. “You hear about all this interesting stuff.”
Now, as a neurosurgeon with TriHealth, he continues to push the boundaries of what we know about modern medicine.
At the Hatton Research Institute, he’s getting ready to start a study fueled by Bethesda Foundation, working with faculty from Cincinnati Conservatory of Music and Cincinnati Symphony to play string music after they’ve had surgery and see how it affects the amount of pain medication they need.
“I’m lucky to work with experts in the music arena,” he says. “It’s very exciting.”
Borden has resided in Cincinnati since 2005 with his family, including twin 16-year-old daughters and a 14-year-old son.
About Dr. Jonathan Borden
Dr. Jonathan Borden is a highly experienced brain and spine surgeon with more than 20 years in practice. Driven by developing and applying the latest technologies and treatments in the field, he finds himself at the cutting edge of neurosurgery research and clinical studies. Borden has served as primary investigator for several national FDA-IDE studies, including growth factors and stem cell therapies for disc regeneration, as well as new minimally invasive and motion-preserving surgeries. Borden provides minimally invasive treatments for brain, cranial nerve and spinal conditions, and has developed new surgical treatments for brain and spinal cord conditions. His practice focus includes minimally invasive spine surgery; motion-preserving spine surgery; minimally invasive treatments for brain tumors, including microsurgery, radiosurgery for pituitary tumors, meningiomas and other types of brain tumors; and vascular malformations of the brain and spine.
Corinne Murphy is a contributing writer. Feedback welcome at email@example.com.